House Votes 70-26 for Bill to Evict Occupy Nashville

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Republican-backed proposal aimed at stopping Occupy Nashville protesters from staying overnight on the Capitol complex passed the House on Thursday despite opposition from Democrats who say the legislation’s penalty is excessive.
The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Eric Watson of Cleveland was approved 70-26 after a lengthy debate on Thursday. All 26 votes against the bill came from Democrats. Seven voted for it.
The companion bill was to be heard on the Senate floor, but it adjourned before hearing the legislation.
Protesters have camped at the plaza since early October. At one time there were as many as 60 tents, but that number is now less than half, mainly because of the proposed legislation.
The measure 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.
Opponents say the penalty is extreme and unnecessary.
“It seems like there was a special effort here to be punitive,” said Democratic Rep. Gary Odom of Nashville.
Critics questioned the bill’s lack of a fiscal impact, considering individuals could be arrested and placed in local jails. An effort to send the legislation back to the House Finance Committee to discuss the financial issue failed.
“Fiscal impact is something we know we have to be concerned about,” Odom said.
Some protesters acknowledge the legislation is a factor in the reduction of occupiers on the plaza, but it hasn’t diminished their resolve.
“They’re not going away,” said protester Bill Howell. “The problems have not been solved. This is a distraction. We’ll get pass this and get back on subject.”
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