Tennessee lawmakers pass a bill making some acts of protest felonies.
What We Know:
- On Wednesday, the Tennessee General Assembly passed new legislation that increases penalties for protestors camped outside the statehouse Capitol in Nashville. The bill will charge people with a Class E felony, instead of a misdemeanor, for camping on state grounds.
- The Republican-led assembly passed the measure and it will take effect as soon as Republican Gov. Bill Lee signs the bill or says it’s allowed to become law. Anyone convicted of a Class E felony in Tennesse faces up to six years in prison and would lose their voting rights.
- “If you want to overthrow our government through violent revolution, you shouldn’t have the right to vote,” state Sen. John Stevens (R) said Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.
- The bill would also enforce the minimum sentence for rioting. If arrested, the individual would be held for at least 12 hours without bond and will be charged with disrupting a meeting, vandalism, unauthorized camping, and other protest-related offenses.
- “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,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro (D).
- Democrats have argued that the bill is too harsh and goes against residents’ First Amendment rights and the democratic process. State Sen. Brenda Gilmore (D) referenced the late Congressman John Lewis and said the legislation would make the future generation feel ashamed.
"We just celebrated Congressman John Lewis…… This bill is one of those things in 55 years we will be ashamed of in how we treated these young protestors and practicing their right to feel." – @SenatorGilmore in response to @tnsenategop pushing bills to punish protestors.
— Tennessee Democratic Party (@tndp) August 12, 2020
- The Tennessean newspaper said the bill would cost the state and local governments up to $1.3 million annually. Anyone blocking an emergency vehicle or trespassing on an elected official or law enforcement officer’s property with be charged with a felony, and people making marks on state buildings or entrances face theft charges and expenses.
For two months, protesters have been camped outside the state Capitol demanding that lawmakers fix systematic racism and charge law enforcement accordingly for police brutality against innocent victims. Additionally, residents want officials to remove a statue of Confederate general and first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan Nathan Bedford Forrest.