KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A Republican lawmaker from East Tennessee made world news this week when he cited Adolf Hitler as an example of someone who escaped homelessness during a debate over a bill that would expand penalties for people who camp on public property.
The Tennessee Senate on Wednesday voted to advance a bill that would create a Class C misdemeanor offense for solicitation or camping along highways or exit ramps and expand penalties for unauthorized camping on state-owned property to all public property, a Class E felony punishable by up to six years in prison.
Bill sponsor Sen. Paul Bailey said it would be left up to the local authorities whether to enforce the law.
Frank Niceley, a Republican senator from Strawberry Plains who represents Claiborne, Grainger, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson and Union counties, expressed support on April 13 for the bill by contending that people experiencing homelessness can still change their fortunes and lead productive lives. He underlined his assertion by reminding his fellow lawmakers that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was also once homeless.
“I wanna give you a little history lesson on homelessness. In 1910, Hitler decided to live on the streets for a while. So for two years, Hitler lived on the streets and practice his oratory and body language and how to connect with the masses and then went on to lead a life that got him in the history books. So a lot of these people, it’s not a dead-end. They can come out of this. These homeless camps and have a productive life… or in Hitler’s case a very unproductive life. I support this bill.”State Sen. Frank Niceley
A request to Niceley from WATE 6 On Your Side for additional comment was not returned.
Opponents of the bill argued the bill does not address the causes of homelessness and could make it more difficult for people experiencing homelessness to find work if they have a felony conviction on their records. The bill was passed in both the Tennessee House and Senate; it will next go to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk.
Hitler, the leader of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party or Nazi party who started World War II with the invasion of Poland in September 1939 and led the genocide of millions of Jews, lived in a hostel for the homeless in Vienna from 1910-1913.
The comments have since been covered by major news outlets across America and in the U.K. A clip of the comments shared by Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) on Twitter has been viewed nearly 2 million times.
Niceley was first elected to the Tennessee House in 1988 and reelected in 1990. He was elected to serve in the 104th General Assembly in 2004 before subsequent reelections in 2006 and 2008. He has served in the Tennessee Senate since 2010.