Anti-Occupy Nashville bill passes House - WKRN News 2

Anti-Occupy Nashville bill passes House

Posted: Updated: Feb 16, 2012 05:09 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn.  - A proposal aimed at stopping Occupy Nashville protesters from staying overnight on public property like the state capitol grounds is just one vote away from becoming law.

The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Eric Watson of Cleveland was approved 70-26 after a lengthy debate on Thursday.

"You have a first amendment right to address your grievances and address the government, but your tent has not first amendment rights," said Rep. Barrett Rich who supported the bill.

Some of the protestors have as many as 60-tents on Capitol Hill's Legislative Plaza since last October.

Democrats thundered against the bill that make it a misdemeanor for people to live on public property while allowing for their temporary removal.

"It limits free speech and criminalizes the homeless," pleaded Memphis democrat Johnnie Turner.

Twenty Democrats voted against the bill, while 76-House members said yes, but Occupiers outside the chambers were not deterred.

"What the group has talked about doing is continuing a continuous presence on the Plaza whether or not this bill passes," said Alesandra Bellows.

Out on the plaza the number of tents dwindled has slowly dwindled as protesters say their original message has been lost.

"We didn't come here to have a discussion of First Amendment rights," said Occupier Michael Custer.

"We came here because we don't want corporations owning our politicians," he added.

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey said he's noticed some tents packing up, but he did not expect protesters to be removed immediately when the bill passes the senate.

"This will be used very sparingly, I think the public is fed up," Ramsey said.

The companion bill was to be heard on the Senate floor, but the upper chamber adjourned before hearing the legislation.

The proposal would make it a misdemeanor to lay down "bedding for the purpose of sleeping."

It refers to items associated with camping, "including tents, portable toilets, sleeping bags, tarps, propane heaters, cooking equipment and generators."

Under the legislation, violators would be fined as much as $2,500 and face up to nearly a year in jail.

*The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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