August 21, 2020

Lindsay Kee, 615-320-7142

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – On August 20, Governor Bill Lee signed into law a measure targeting protesters and chilling free speech.

SB 8005 increases the penalties and adds mandatory minimum sentences for things like disorderly conduct, disrupting a meeting, vandalism and more – statutes that are often used to arrest people who are simply protesting. The law also makes camping on state property not designated for such use a felony and creates a pre-conviction punishment by requiring a person to spend 12 hours in jail if they are arrested for any of the offenses listed in the statute, even if they are not convicted, unless an official finds the person is unlikely to resume the action they were arrested for.

The law was passed in reaction to protests that have been taking place outside the state capitol since mid-June. Protesters are calling for the defunding of police and the removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust at the state capitol, among other things.

ACLU-TN had earlier urged Governor Lee to veto this legislation.

The following reaction is attributable to Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee executive director:

“We are very disappointed in Governor Lee’s decision to sign this bill, which chills free speech, undermines criminal justice reform and fails to address the very issues of racial justice and police violence raised by the protesters who are being targeted. While the governor often speaks about sentencing reform, this bill contradicts those words and wastes valuable taxpayer funds to severely criminalize dissent. This law also robs individuals of their right to vote if they are convicted of these new felony charges. In a critical moment of reckoning that has led to policing reforms nationwide, Tennessee has chosen to turn a blind eye to the reasons the protests are happening and is instead choosing to shut down the right of the people to protest. We will be closely monitoring enforcement of this law and are urging Tennesseans to get out and vote like their rights depend on it.”