NASHVILLE. Tenn. (Feb. 19, 2020) – Bills filed in the Tennessee legislature would create a process to review and reject federal block grants. This would set the stage to untangle Tennessee from the regulations and mandates that often accompany federal funding.
Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) introduced Senate Bill 2055 (SB2055) on Feb. 3. Rep. Mark Cochran (R-Englewood) introduced the companion – House Bill 2831 (HB2831) – on Feb. 5. Under the proposed law, no state agency would be able to enter into or renew a contract or other agreement with the federal government for the receipt of a federal block grant unless the contract or other agreement is approved by the general assembly.
State agencies often accept federal money no legislative approval and virtually no oversight. Passage of the legislation would create a process to stop state agencies from accepting block grants — particularly those that create a regulatory burden on Tennesseans.
Federal money often comes with all kinds of strings attached in the form of mandates and regulations. The federal government can effectively legislate within the borders of a state by dangling money in front of state agencies that require them to take specific actions in order to maintain the funding. For instance, HUD rules known as Affirmatively Further Fair Housing (AFFH) total 377 pages. These regulations “require program participants receiving Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME), Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG), and Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) formula funding to undertake an analysis to identify impediments to fair housing choice within the jurisdiction and take appropriate actions to overcome the effects of any impediments, and keep records on such efforts.”
These rules give the federal government the leverage to exercise a great deal of control over local planning and development decisions to accomplish wide-ranging goals.
Block grants from other federal agencies come with similarly burdensome regulations.
The federal government uses funding as a way to dictate policies within a state that they are outside of their constitutional bounds. Since they aren’t passing laws, they can argue that they aren’t passing unconstitutional laws, the states are agreeing to the regulation by virtue of accepting the money. They don’t have to take the funds and thus technically chose to abide by the regulations.
Of course, all of this federal funding and the agencies that offer it are unconstitutional in and of themselves.
Passage of SB2055/HB2831 would ensure lawmaking power remains in the state legislature. It would create a process to stop government agencies from taking grant money that effectively establish new laws in Tennessee and would create a mechanism to rein in overreaching federal power.
SB2055 was referred to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee and HB2831 was referred to the House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee. Both bills must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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