Protesters aiming to spend the night outside the Tennessee Capitol could be hit with a felony.
The state legislature voted on Wednesday to make it a felony to camp outside the state Capitol as a response to a protest-filled summer with repeated overnight demonstrations in Nashville. The legislation, which will become law immediately after Republican Gov. Bill Lee signs the bill, makes it a Class E felony to camp on state property. Those charged could face up to six years in jail and a loss of their voting rights. Some who opposed the legislation thought the punishment was too severe.
“We are using a bazooka to go after a housefly here,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, a Democrat. “Are we really saying that a citizen of this state can be punished with a year in prison and have a felony record because they camped on public property? That should be a bridge too far.”
The legislation also made it a misdemeanor to spit or throw bodily fluids at a law enforcement officer. The elevated punishment includes a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in jail if convicted. The legislation also made it a felony to trespass on property owned by elected officials to prevent protesters from targeting the homes of lawmakers. It also established a mandatory minimum sentence of 45 days in jail for aggravated rioting and made it a felony crime to block an emergency vehicle that is responding to an emergency call.
The legislation passed with a party-line vote in both the House and the Senate, with the exception of one Republican senator who voted against it. Sen. Kerry Roberts, a Republican, said he is not concerned about the legal ramifications that protesters will face if they break the new laws.
“The thing is, what I wish I could convey to people is that it’s really hard to be sympathetic to what someone is saying when they are yelling at you, when they’re trying to shame you, when they’re calling you names and so forth,” Roberts said.
Rep. Jason Hodges, a Democrat, said that he believes the legislation was only passed because the demonstrations outside the Capitol have been led by Black Lives Matter supporters. He noted that there was no discussion from Republicans to charge armed anti-lockdown protesters earlier in the year.
“We seem not to worry about protesting when white people show up with AR-15s. But when black people show up with signs, we try to pass legislation … maybe that’s why they’re out there in the first place,” Hodges said.
Author: Madison Dibble
Source: Washington Examiner: Tennessee legislature makes camping outside of state Capitol a felony to quash protests