Haslam to Lawmakers: Careful with the Bills Targeting Illegal Immigrants

Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday he does not want to send the wrong message to people as the state addresses legislation like a proposal to have state driver’s license tests printed solely in English.

A bill requiring English-only on the tests and sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, was on the agenda Wednesday of the Senate Transportation Committee, but the measure was deferred until Feb. 23.

Haslam was asked about the legislation after he spoke briefly to the Tennessee Economic Development Council at the Sheraton in downtown Nashville. He said he wants the state to be very specific about its intentions.

“We want to make certain that only folks who should be getting driver’s licenses are getting driver’s licenses. We want to do that. But we don’t want to send the wrong headline message across the country that Tennessee is not a place that’s welcome to international business, because we are,” Haslam said.

The driver’s license issue is one of the latest regarding immigration that could put legislative agendas at cross-purposes. On one hand, lawmakers are intent on establishing immigration policies that stress legal residence. But the Haslam administration is making a concerted effort to attract jobs to the state, and Tennessee is already on a firm path of attracting foreign businesses in recent years.

“I’ve been talking to a lot of folks in the Legislature. What I want to make certain is those businesses that have located here — and anybody else who’s here for a legal reason — don’t feel threatened by that,” he said in response to a question about the license test.

“We have a lot of Japanese business located here and German businesses and other folks, and we want to make certain we’re not doing anything to inhibit that.”

Haslam said he understands there would be exceptions in such legislation that would cover people on work visas and their families, which he said is important.

In his speech to the Tennessee Economic Development Council, Haslam, in fact, covered a lot of familiar territory about his stated goal of making Tennessee the top state in the Southeast for attracting high-quality jobs. His remarks were very much like those he used in his campaign for office last year.

“We have to have a plan that works for us. We have great assets,” Haslam told the audience. “Our intent is to work with you. I don’t know of any replacement for hard work.”

When asked after the speech for any update on his jobs package, Haslam told reporters he didn’t know that he had anything new to convey.

“We’re working on several things,” he said. “We’ve been very up-front. We’re going to deal with some things around education reform. We probably will introduce something on tort reform as well. We will work on things that can encourage more insurance business to locate here.

“We’re not going to have a lengthy jobs package because I don’t think jobs are created on Capitol Hill, quite frankly. I think they can sometimes be restricted there. But you won’t see a long package from us on that.”