The Washington Post reports:
“Tennessee protesters could now lose their right to vote under a new law Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed with little fanfare ...”
The bill summary provides:
“Restores the introduced bill's requirement that a person must receive notice from an official that camping is prohibited and then continue illegally camping on state property before committing an offense. This amendment also restores the introduced bill's classification of the offense as a Class E felony and removes the requirement for mandatory community service described in (3) of the Summary for Senate Amendment #1.” Tennessee General Assembly
In considering the Post’s report on the bill, there is a qualification that should be made…
Tennessee law provides that a protestor who is convicted of the felony of camping on state property will lose their voting rights upon conviction. Unless convicted, a protestor will not lose his or her rights.
The issue with the Tennessee bill, and the summary given above, is whether the law unreasonably restricts a protestor’s first amendment right of free speech under Tennessee law. Moreover, does the Tennessee legislature have the authority to restrict access under state law to publicly owned state property?
The law is designed to restrict protestors from undertaking certain acts from the vandalizing of public property to restricting the areas in which protestors can “camp” on state property. Under the First Amendment, a state may reasonably regulate free speech rights. Therefore, the question is whether the bill is a reasonable regulation of free speech.
The main issue is the “camping on state property” provision and whether that provision reasonably regulates free speech involves the bill making the camping violation a felony. Is criminalizing the act of camping by making it a felony a reasonable restriction on the right to free speech through peaceful protesting, including camping on public property? This is one of the central questions involving the validity of the law.
Keep in mind, there may be other issues surrounding the law and its validity under the United States Constitution.
The law will be subject to legal challenge. By making camping on public property a felony, the law is designed to restrict protestor’s free speech rights. The question is whether the law is reasonable…
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