Tennessee AG declines to weigh in on voucher bill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A top Tennessee lawmaker says Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III's decision to not issue a legal opinion on a proposal that would subsidize private school tuition for some families signals it's likely unconstitutional.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally told reporters on Thursday that if Slatery had issued such a finding, it would be hard for him to defend the state should the bill pass.

The Daily Memphian was the first to report Slatery's office's refusal to issue a legal opinion on Gov. Bill Lee's proposal to expand education savings accounts — otherwise known as a voucher-style program allowing families to take public dollars to pay for private school tuition and other approved expenses.

Democratic Rep. G.A. Hardaway of Memphis requested the opinion after the voucher bill was amended to require families to provide a birth certificate, a driver's license or some sort of government documentation. The requirement has sparked concerns over the measure's legality because states can't deny free public education based on immigration status.

"In the course of our review, it has come to our attention that, if the Tennessee Education Savings Account Act becomes law, it would almost certainly be the subject of litigation specifically challenging the constitutionality of (part) of the act," Solicitor General Andree Sophia Blumstein, who works for Slatery, wrote in an opinion.

When asked specifically if the opinion was calling the bill unconstitutional, McNally responded, "Reading between the lines, that would be my opinion, but I'm not an attorney."

Lee has defended the amendment to the bill, saying he wanted the program to be provided only to "legal residents" of Tennessee.