It costs Tennessee taxpayers more than $24,000 a day to send our legislators to the Capitol to debate and, one imagines, pass laws that benefit the majority of the citizenry.
But other than passing a budget and a tax reprieve for flood victims, the 106th General Assembly, which adjourned last week, just wasted our money.
They burned time on resolutions both commending and challenging existing laws — one that doesn’t apply to Tennesseans in any way and another that would’ve carried exactly zero legal standing, were it to have survived.
And they got across one essential public service announcement: They’ll hold the door for you as you carry your gun into a bar and soundly reaffirm the Second Amendment.
I’d bet the money I just paid for our legislators to prance and pose that, were a poll to be taken of the voting public, more people would agree with me than would support, say, a do-nothing resolution to declare that the mighty Tennessee legislature snubs its nose at health care reform law.
Amid the charade is legislation (both passed and attempted) regarding illegal immigration. Where they actually do something, the bills only hurt the state.
First was the declaration that Arizona’s harsh new law, requiring immigrants to carry papers at all times and giving police officers the authority to choose who looks like an immigrant, is worth the endorsement of an official, representative body other than the intellectually hobbled one that passed it.
For this, Gov. Phil Bredesen ripped legislators last week, saying in essence that if they’re so concerned about the issue, they should do something besides attaboy the southwestern state.
They tried. A law allowing employers to require that English be spoken in the workplace — even during breaks, lunch and so forth — is the only bill to change something practically.
As City Paper contributor Charles Maldonado recently reported, legislators stripped key compromises reached earlier with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition from the English-only workplace bill before passing it, returning the legislation to its most rigid incarnation. As well, the House and Senate each passed, in some form, a bill that would require jailers to check the immigration status of everyone they book, and another that would require local election officials to obtain verification of citizenship before letting you touch a screen. (The bodies never agreed on final versions.)
Along with satisfying the nationalistic pride of some business owners, burdening overworked police officers, and scrambling the order for volunteer poll workers, the measures would do exactly nothing to address the national “problem” of illegal immigration — none calls for amnesty nor any paying of taxes or voting (though I imagine the point here is not to create a voting block out of those you’ve just insulted and marginalized). Each abides the send-’em-back principle, a primitive, redneck response that ignores all realities except the one that says Americans are colloquial nativists who appreciate a good distraction in the face of a challenge.
The bills will only damage the state’s faltering economy, which Tennessee’s 100,000 undocumented workers help buoy.
According to the Tennessee Comptroller, “unauthorized aliens contribute to state and local revenue through sales tax, property tax included in rents and other consumption taxes.” A University of Georgia study released last fall found an 833 percent increase in the buying power of Hispanics in Tennessee over the last two decades.
Undocumented workers disproportionately pay into social services systems of which they cannot partake — like Social Security and Medicare — to the tune of $7 billion a year, according to the Social Security Administration.
And according to the National Academy of Sciences, 75 percent of immigrants speak good English within 10 years of their arrival, while fewer than 3 percent of immigrants who’ve been in this country long-term do not speak English.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land is now publicly advocating, on behalf of his employer, a so-called path to citizenship for immigrants without legal status, joining the Catholic Church, major Jewish and Muslim groups, and God knows how many other, smaller religious sects in calling for a rational response to immigration reform. There are 104 Nashville churches affiliated with the SBC.
The General Assembly’s largely symbolic action has highlighted the increasing distance between common sense and the elected officials who should be practicing it. And, perhaps more importantly, any group that makes the traditionally stiff SBC look progressive in comparison should have its humanity checked.