Legislators schedule hearings on refugee resettlement

News release from Senate Republican Caucus
NASVHILLE — Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and House State Government Committee Chairman Bob Ramsey (R-Maryville) said today that they are planning to conduct a joint hearing in early December to look at plans by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to bring Syrian refugees to Tennessee.

Reports indicate that Tennessee will likely receive some of the 10,000 Syrian refugees for resettlement under President Obama’s admissions plans.

Governor Bill Haslam on Monday asked federal officials to suspend placements in Tennessee until states can become more of a partner in the vetting process.

“We treat the placement by the federal government of Syrian refugees in Tennessee as a serious matter,” said Senator Yager. “The attack in Paris serves as another wake-up call that ISIS is serious about embedding the enemy in our communities. This comes on the heels of the terrorist attack in our state this summer. While we want to act humanely in our efforts to help those who legitimately need assistance, we owe it to our citizens to place their safety as our highest priority.”

Yager and Ramsey said their agenda is incomplete but they plan to ask the state’s Department of Safety and Homeland Security and Tennessee Office for Refugees to provide testimony at the meeting. In 2008, Governor Phil Bredesen’s administration withdrew the State of Tennessee as the point of contact for the federal refugee resettlement program, instead opting to allow the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement to select a non-governmental organization to operate the program. That program, the Tennessee Office for Refugees, is now operated by Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Inc.

“We just have a lot of questions as reports have indicated Tennessee is set to receive Syrian refugees,” added Ramsey. “We want to get to the facts about how these refugees are handled and what kind of say-so the state has in the matter. Most of all we want to know how best to protect our citizens.”

Note: Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro declared earlier that he’s already contemplating legislation on the issue. That news release is below.

News release from Sen. Bill Ketron, via Senate Republican Caucus
(NASHVILLE) — State Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) said today that he is drafting legislation to determine how much refugee resettlement is costing Tennesseans in his continuing effort to give the state greater control over who and how many are placed here by the federal government. Ketron, who said he is adamantly opposed to the federal government placing Syrian refugees in the state, said he was very pleased that Governor Haslam has asked the Obama Administration to halt their resettlement efforts.

“I have been very concerned for many years that what happened in Paris, could happen here because of the lack of transparency and accountability regarding the federal government’s refugee resettlement program,” said Senator Ketron. “I am encouraged that now that others recognize the dangers of this practice that it can be stopped.”

“My proposal is aimed at understanding the costs that Tennessee taxpayers must bear through the federal refugee resettlement program,” he added. “Beyond the urgent public safety concerns, state governments must pay the tab for refugee needs, like healthcare, education, and welfare programs. Currently, we do not collect the data we need to give us that information. This bill is about transparency so that we know the full costs of supporting these refugees that the federal government has thrust upon us.”

Ketron said he expects to present the legislation when the General Assembly returns to Nashville in January.