Lawmakers are taking up two bills that not only seek to suppress protest and criminalize the unhoused, but that also chill free speech and fuel mass incarceration by creating new felony offenses.
- SB 843/HB 513 is a dangerous bill that would suppress protest by turning obstruction of traffic into a felony offense. It also offers immunity to drivers who run over protesters in the road. Additionally, it criminalizes speech that causes “emotional distress” to or “frightens” another person. This vague and troubling suppression of free speech can easily be abused, leading to the criminalization of protesters’ words and beliefs. As was demonstrated this past summer, the government does not need more tools to criminalize, abuse or potentially kill protesters.
- SB 1610/HB 978 would expand Tennessee’s current ban on “camping” from state-owned property to all public property. This bill would make it a felony for an unhoused person to simply sleep on public property – which leads to a host of collateral consequences such as loss of voting rights, difficulty getting jobs, and, ironically, barriers to finding housing. This overly broad bill also makes it unlawful for a person to solicit money from highway ramps and more. Panhandling is not only how the unhoused survive – numerous courts have found it is also protected speech under the First Amendment.