Tennessee bill to criminalize camping on public property passes in legislature


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF)  — A bill that would target those who sleep on public property passed both chambers of the legislature as of Monday.

The bill — SB1610/HB0978 — would create a Class C misdemeanor offense for the action, punishable only by a $50 fine and community service work between 20 and 40 hours for camping on public property. In 2020, lawmakers made camping on state property a felony. This happened after weeks of the People’s Plaza protests at the state capitol.

The House voted for the bill Monday night 57-28. Six lawmakers declined to vote.

Last week, the debate sparked reactions after Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, drew the comparison to Adolf Hitler, who he said was previously homeless. The Senate voted 22-10 for the measure.

“People can come out of these camps and have a very productive life, or in Hitler’s case, a very unproductive life,” Niceley said.

The legislation expands the Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012 to apply the offense of unauthorized camping on local government properties. This same legislation died in the legislature in 2021, though it passed the House. Its counterpart in the Senate only received one vote last year.

Some lawmakers said they didn’t agree with the legislation at all.

“We have made it a felony to fall asleep in a park,” Sen. Jeff Yarbro said. “Now I don’t anticipate anyone in the legislature wants to apply that to people enjoying their weekend. When we pass a law we don’t intend to have forced as written, it creates a really broad level of discretion, where local governments can target disfavored populations.”

Ultimately, the bill will need Gov. Bill Lee’s signature before it becomes law.


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