NASHVILLE — Tennessee Senate Judiciary Chairman Mike Bell is sponsoring legislation challenging Gov. Bill Lee's decision to accept a limited number of refugees under the Trump administration's reconstituted federal resettlement program.
Bell, R-Riceville, introduced the bill Thursday as the Senate's bill 5 p.m. (CST) bill filing deadline loomed in Nashville. His bill says Lee, a Republican cannot act on his own.
The chairman said in a statement that "as the state's ultimate appropriator, the legislature must be involved in any decision that involves state funds. Because refugees have a significant financial impact on the state, the power to appropriate funds for their resettlement in Tennessee lies with the legislative branch under our state constitution."
Acknowledging the governor and executive branch "does have an important role in governing the state, it is critical that Tennessee's co-equal legislature does not have its authority usurped on this or any other issue," Bell said.
"It is our responsibility as a citizen legislature to make sure our appropriation authority is retained in all matters — now and in the future," Bell added. He also insisted that "this legislation is not about accepting or rejecting refugees in our state, but instead is about keeping each branch of government in their constitutional lanes."
A Lee spokesman did not respond immediately Thursday afternoon to Times Free Press inquiries about the Judiciary Committee chairman's sponsorship of the bill.
Bell's Senate Bill 2730 is a companion to a previously filed House bill filed by Rep. Ron Gant, R-Williston.
Many legislative and other Republicans have been critical of Lee's decision to accept refugees despite the governor's assertions they will be few and highly vetted before coming into the U.S. and then Tennessee.
Prior to becoming governor last year, Lee had done volunteer work with faith-based groups regarding refugees and says he has witnessed first hand what some have experienced in their home countries.
Unlike legal and illegal immigrants, the governor says, refugees in the federal program are "politically oppressed or religiously oppressed" and "very different" from others.
President Donald Trump tightened the number of refugees entering the U.S. Last year he issued an executive order saying the State Department could only approve refugees to resettle in jurisdictions where state and local government officials consented.
Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, have been critical of Lee's decision.
So has a highly influential social conservative, Bobbie Patray, president of the Eagle Forum's Tennessee chapter.
"Well, well, most folks thought that it would be after CHRISTmas before the Governor made a decision about consenting to bring more refugees into our state, and were caught off guard when that decision was announced on Wednesday," Patray wrote followers in a Dec. 20 email. "A number of Soros-related groups had been pushing hard for a positive decision, sending letters and making many other contacts."
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