NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Protesters who have been on Tennessee’s capitol hill around the clock for more than two months are gone, at least for the moment.
They left after more arrests and a new legislative bill making unauthorized camping on public property a felony.
“If you are a peaceful protester, this legislation does not pertain to you,” said the Republican bill sponsors as they presented the bill on the House floor late Wednesday afternoon.
Those protesting outside the capitol have wanted to be heard on racial injustice. While most of them have been peaceful, a prominent Capitol Hill outdoor statue was pulled down at one point, along with words being written on capitol’s walls and doors in chalk.
“You tell me that someone has the right to tear down property that Tennessee taxpayers paid for?” asked Rep. John Deberry in a fiery speech before he voted for the new protester bill.
A Nashville House Democrat blamed Republican Governor Bill Lee for not meeting a key demand of the protesters. He listed his criticism in an unsuccessful amendment to the protest bill.
“And whereas recent overnight camping and constant presence of citizens on the War Memorial Plaza are the result of Governor Bill Lee’s refusal to meet with citizens and discuss issues of social justice,” said Rep. John Ray Clemmons as he read his legislation.
A Republican House member listed things the acts targeted by the “protest” bill.
“Burning things, stopping people in traffic, banging on their cars, spitting on their law enforcement officers,” said Rep. Bruce Griffey on the House floor.
The bill in the Republican controlled legislature easily passed.
Along with making unauthorized overnight camping on state property a felony, there are such things as harsher sentences for vandalism and assaulting first responders.
The other special session bill passed provided COVID-19 lawsuit protections for businesses and requirements that medical insurance pays providers equally for telemedicine and in-person health care visits.
The new laws go into effect with the governor’s signature, which is expected sometime later this month when the bills get to his desk.