Senate in a Minute from Senator Bill Ketron / March 17, 2017

Senate in a Minute

NASHVILLE, (March 17, 2017) — Senate Committees advanced a number of important bills this week, including the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act which proposes a responsible path to improve access to broadband through investment, deregulation, and education.  Senate Bill 1215 would spur deployment in rural unserved areas, opening them up to economic investment and job growth.  I am co-sponsoring this important legislation to expand broadband services.

Tennessee currently ranks 29th in the U.S. for broadband access.  The legislation calls for a three-year investment of $45 million in grants and tax credits that focus on the state’s unserved areas.  This includes a $30 million “Broadband Accessibility Grant Program” and $15 million in tax credits to private service providers based on the purchase of broadband equipment used to provide access in the most economically challenged counties.

On deregulation, the proposal permits the state’s private, nonprofit electric co-operatives to provide broadband and cable video services.  The co-ops are currently restricted from providing retail broadband services.   To protect co-op ratepayers, the legislation prevents the use of electric system assets to subsidize broadband services.

The bill expands opportunities for education by providing grants to the state’s local libraries to help residents improve their digital literacy skills and maximize the benefits of broadband.   This is in addition to education efforts by the state’s Rural Task Force and other groups to drive broadband adoption in unserved areas of Tennessee.

Tennessee files first lawsuit in the nation challenging constitutionality of the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program

A lawsuit was filed this week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee challenging the constitutionality of the federal refugee resettlement program on behalf of the State of Tennessee and the Tennessee General Assembly.  The state is challenging the program on the basis that it violates the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the principles of State sovereignty.

The Thomas More Law Center, a national nonprofit public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, MI, is representing the state in the case pro bono.

The lawsuit comes after the Tennessee General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution I co-sponsored during the 2016 legislative session, authorizing legal action to stop the federal government from unconstitutionally commandeering State funds to finance the federal refugee resettlement program.

The state is seeking a court declaration that the federal government has violated the Tenth Amendment and an order permanently enjoining the federal government from forcing the State of Tennessee to pay money out of its treasury to finance the federal refugee resettlement program.

When Congress enacted the Refugee Resettlement Act of 1980, the explicit intent was to assure full federal reimbursement of the costs for each refugee resettled and participating in benefit programs provided by the states.  Eventually, however, federal reimbursements to the states for these benefit programs were reduced and, by 1991, eliminated entirely.  The states thereby became responsible for the costs of the programs originally covered by the federal government.  Tennessee officially withdrew from participation in the refugee resettlement program in 2007. However, instead of honoring Tennessee’s decision to withdraw from the program, the federal government merely bypassed the State and appointed a private, non-governmental organization to administer the program.

 

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