Legislature-approved bill to expedite criminal trespass prosecution draws fire

A little-noticed bill that passed the General Assembly last week is seen by detractors as an attack on free speech. But proponents, including business interest groups, say it’ll help bolster criminal trespassing prosecutions, reports WPLN.

(Note: It’s HB2030, previous post HERE)

Starting next year, businesses can pay a fee to register protests with a database, controlled by the Tennessee Secretary of State.

What does this mean?

Here’s a hypothetical: Let’s say PETA protests at Wal-Mart, which joins the state database by paying a fee. If PETA protests again, the police response will be quicker, swifter and will be conducted with less fuss.

At least that’s what the bill’s backer, Rep. Andy Holt, hopes. Though trespassing on private property is already a crime, Holt says, under this measure, police will give protesters less leeway.

“The purpose of this act is to protect private property owners,” he said.

A nearly identical bill was passed by the Arizona State Legislature in 2011. Last year, a federal judge struck it down for curtailing free speech.

…Among the opponents to the bill is attorney and lobbyist Jason Holleman, who says the soon-to-be law is a “solution in search of a problem.”

“I think that we get into dangerous territory, as we saw with this debate, when we try to file bills to limit First Amendment speech, particularly when it’s not addressing a problem that we have in Tennessee,” Holleman said.

It now awaits Governor Bill Haslam’s signature.