TN House Passes Bill Aimed At Occupy Nashville Protesters
By Adam Ghassemi
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It's a showdown on Capitol Hill to decide where to draw the rights of protesters.
"It's so disrespectful to what has happened in the last few weeks and months," said bill sponsor Rep. Eric Watson, (R) of Cleveland.
Watson believes anyone has the right to protest, but not by camping. His bill, that would outlaw tents on some state-owned property, has plenty of support.
"You have a first amendment right to come to this plaza. You have a first amendment right to address your grievances and address the government, but your tent has absolutely no first amendment rights," Rep. Barrett Rich, (R) of Somerville.
But people on the other side of the line say the bill goes too far by taking away people's rights.
"Just because I disagree with you or anyone else don't mean I have a right to take away your freedom," Rep. Johnny Shaw, (D) of Bolivar.
Watson's bill passed the House 70 to 26 Thursday, as Occupy Nashville protester Matthew Hamill was watching and recording the debate from the House gallery. Hamill is the person who tried to move from the Plaza to the Historic Metro Courthouse earlier this week only be to removed by police.
"They sent seven cop cars to ask one protester to leave," he said just after the vote. Hamill says even if this is signed into law, and they're removed from Legislative Plaza, the movement will not stop.
"This will not end Occupy. We have so many people that are behind the scenes that support this movement that you don't see down there actually camping. We're not going anywhere. All that they're going to do by passing this law is make us stronger and make our numbers grow," Hamwill went on to say.
The Senate was supposed to hear the companion bill Thursday, but they adjourned before hearing it. Governor Haslam would then have to sign the bill into law.
As it stands, violators would be fined as much as $2,500 dollars and face up to nearly a year in jail. Some worry that unfairly targets the homeless.
Occupiers say they'll now look to Metro for a permitting system to allow them to camp in a designated area to protest. They plan to take that matter to Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.