Tennessee's Lawmakers Respond to Police Reform Protests by Threatening Voting Rights and Gun Rights

The new law features harsher penalties, 12-hour detentions, and other invitations to abuse government power


Tennessee's legislature and governor have heard the protests of people camped outside the Capitol for two months demanding policing reforms. They have responded by making existing laws harsher in a way that threatens the protesters' voting rights and gun rights.

Last Thursday, Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed into law H.B. 8005. The highest-profile part of the bill turns the crime of illegal camping on state property from a misdemeanor to a Class E felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in jail. Tennessee strips all felons of the right to vote and the right to own a gun, and the state makes it particularly difficult to get those rights restored. This part of the law is completely indifferent as to whether the camper is engaging in anything destructive or violent: Simply camping is enough. The law also grants qualified immunity for any state employees who seize property from those found illegally camping.

The legislation also prohibits the release of anybody arrested for a bunch of protest-related offenses (including the aforementioned illegal camping) for 12 hours after they're arrested. The Tennessean notes that such holds aren't mandated by state law for most other crimes, including some that are much more serious than protest misconduct. This new authority makes it easy to shut down protests by broadly accusing protesters of crimes and then detaining them for 12 hours before dropping charges.

H.B. 8005 also adds mandatory minimums of 30- to 45-day jail sentences to some protest-related offenses, and it recategorizes some misdemeanors—such as disrupting a government meeting, obstructing a highway, and painting graffiti on a government building—so that they're considered more serious misdemeanors and therefore have harsher penalties.

The harsher penalties were hammered out and passed in mid-August over the objection of Democratic lawmakers, and the Tennessean reports that even some Republican legislators were concerned about repercussions of the broad bill. One Republican senator even filed an amendment to keep the camping offense a misdemeanor, but that didn't make it into the final bill.

The two groups of protesters who have been protesting at the Capitol—Teens4Equality and the People's Plaza—aren't giving up on pushing for criminal justice reforms.

"What's happening is an attempt to try to make us afraid to protest and so what we're going to do is make sure that doesn't happen," Justin Jones of the People's Plaza told News 4 Nashville. He said his organization will try to get the bill struck down as unconstitutional.

Hedy Weinburg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Tennessee chapter, put out a statement criticizing Lee:

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.

NEXT: When You Say Yes to Hate: Dispatch From Portland

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  1. Seems like this law might be a teensy bit overreaching. And felony arrests for illegal camping would certainly be misused.

    1. Oh yeah, its going to be abused all over the place, but what exactly did people expect to happen when we’ve had months of riots. Communist violence created the Nazi’s. Anti-fa and BLM aren’t quite as universally evil as communist (mostly because only some of their members are communists), so the backlash isn’t as big or as desperate. But there is going to be a stamp down on this bullshit. People won’t accept having their businesses burned down and BLM “protestors” pulling random people out their cars to beat down.

      1. How is it going to be missused? How exactly do you mistakenly accuse someone of camping on government property? And it is more than just accusing someone of these crimes. You have to have probable cause to arrest them. I don’t think the police are going to go around and round up peaceful demonstrators with no probable cause.

        What probably will happen is a few people who didn’t actually commit vandalism and such are going to be rounded up with those who do. But, at this point anyone who goes to these protests is going to either commit an act of violence or act as a human shield for someone who does. So, it is hard to have a lot of sympathy for them.

        1. lmao

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        2. Because putting up a tent on public property shouldn’t be a felony. And believing that in the future it will only be used against protesters and not against someone the cops just want to hassle is dumb.

          1. Yes it should be. They have no right to be there and are not just putting up a tent. They are squatting for the purpose of making the place unusable. People other than leftist thugs have rights too. That is a fucking shock to you fucking wokeltarians I know. Only leftist thugs matter.

            1. You do get that all public parks are public property. Yosemite, the Appalachian Trail, etc. Abused? Oh hell yeah. Supercop will smell dope a mile away from your campsite and if you’re the first camp he stumbles on, sorry – you lose.

              1. I like the way you think how “public” works, unfortunately “public” means owned and controlled by the organization of The State, not peons like you and me.

          2. The John sockpuppet is a Republican girl-bullier enabler installed here by Republicans to spray stink, sell violence and repel libertarian voters under who knows how many fake names. To them there is money in the till at stake, and possible lost opportunities to shoot people in the back. LP votes increasing 80% per year has them rattled and desperate.

            1. I would suggest it’s a democrat plant designed to repel libertarians and make republicans look bad. 2 for 1.

        3. How could anti-terrorism legislation be misused? How exactly do you mistakenly accuse someone of committing terrorism? The same principles behind the PATRIOT act can be applied here.

          There are already laws against arson, assault, murder, vandalism, disorderly conduct, and unlawful assembly, that should cover pretty much everything bad that the rioters are doing. The police have all the authority they need already to start arresting those rioters and the prosecutors have all the authority they need to start locking them up. All it takes is the will to do so from state and local executives, and a new law isn’t going to change anything at that level.

          I understand that the riots are bad and that the rioters should be charged and punished and it’s frustrating to see these far left cities just letting rioters riot unhindered, but a new law that at best doesn’t change anything and at worst gives the government more power isn’t going to force far left mayors and prosecutors to start confronting the riots.

          1. Just read the article, and I have to correct myself. The mandate to hold protesters for at least 12 hours after their arrested could help to force leftist districts to fight the riots. But the counter to that is to simply order the police to not arrest rioters. It would be a bad look for the leftist mayor, but it won’t be effective in solving the immediate riot problem.

            Turning some misdemeanors into more serious misdemeanors I can understand. Turning camping from a misdemeanor to a felony is just absurd.

            1. From the Bill Summary: This bill specifies that camping occurs between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., and revises and expands the examples of what constitutes camping. This bill adds that, in order to commit an offense, a person must have received an official warning not to engage in camping on state property and either continued to camp on state property or returned within 24 hours of the warning to continue to engage in camping.

              So it appears the bill actually makes it significantly harder to charge someone who was e.g. stealth camping at a state park, but substantially ups the penalties for attempting a CHAZ.

              1. That sounds more reasonable than presented in the article (pretty standard for modern journalism in general, not just Reason). Again, I understand the sentiment, that a lot of normal people are sick of leftists behaving like feral monkeys in their leftist districts, but the reason stuff like CHAZ happened was because the mayor explicitly allowed it to happen. As soon as they reached her house, the cops broke CHAZ up in a few hours, no felonies for illegally camping needed.

                1. “…but the reason stuff like CHAZ happened was because the mayor explicitly allowed it to happen. As soon as they reached her house, the cops broke CHAZ up in a few hours, no felonies for illegally camping needed.”

                  This. The solution is to enforce existing laws, not making vagrancy a felony. Not like those mayors and DA’s would have enforced a law like Tennessee’s in Seattle or Portland either.

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          2. If you want these people punished, then support them being punished instead of whining when the government does that.

            1. I want these people punished for crimes that are already on the books. I don’t want the government to invent new crimes to punish people I don’t like for doing things I don’t like them doing.

              Again, if it’s about punishing rioters for rioting then there are more than enough laws already on the books to punish them. The problem is that the leftists running leftist districts are refusing to punish them, and making up new crimes isn’t going to change that.

              1. “The problem is that the leftists running leftist districts are refusing to punish them, and making up new crimes isn’t going to change that.”

                Insert “Thank You!” gif here.

            2. One thought I just had was that the people we should be trying to punish are the leftists in charge of these cities. Instead of worrying about camping, the Tennessee legislature should work on a law that allows residents to sue mayors for damages resulting from a police stand down or charging local prosecutors for fees associated with having to prosecute rioters at the state level. I’m just spitballing and I haven’t thought it all through, but that’s at least in the direction of hitting them where it hurts.

        4. > I don’t think the police are going to go around and round up peaceful demonstrators with no probable cause.

          Are you fucking kidding me?

          1. No I am not. They have let these demonstrators riot and loot and terrorize entire cities. I am pretty sure they will give them a pass if they manage to not do that.

            1. What color is the sky in world, John?

      2. Antifa-BLM are every bit as inherently evil as the Nazis and communists, they just (for now) lack the power

        1. Antifa-BLM ARE Communists. Haven’t you listened to what their leadership has been saying?

        2. Sad, but true, I’m afraid. Hopefully we will deny them this power. But that is not at all certain.

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  2. Any defenders of this on this “libertarian” site? C’mon, I know you’re out there.

    1. Get bent.

  3. So basically people looked at the riots that are now in there 87th day and decided that shit was never going to be allowed in their city or state. Shocker.

  4. Trespassing is not protesting.
    Assault is not protesting.
    Arson is not protesting.
    Theft is not protesting.
    Nothing in that law addresses protesting.
    Complete and total bullshit article.

    1. Those are all already crimes, and, mostly felonies, why do we need to make a new felony?

      1. In order to do something!!

      2. Why new felonies, new ways to punish and why are conservative types excited by this cruelty? Ask John.

  5. The law also grants qualified immunity for any state employees who seize property from those found illegally camping.

    That’s not qualified immunity. You don’t need qualified immunity for performing legal duties legally – that’s absolute immunity. QI is for when you fuck up. You can’t give people pre-emptive protection for performing their duties illegally.

    Either seizing the gear is legal – in which case they would be covered under absolute immunity – or its not – in which case by ‘giving qualified immunity’ you have de facto notified anyone who would be seizing gear that it is actually illegal to do so. Which would nullify their QI defense.

  6. Slightly OT:

    Last week, a friend of ours in CA decided she wanted to purchase a handgun. She didn’t think she would have any problem, being a nurse and never convicted of anything but a couple of traffic tickets when she was a teenager. But, CA law requires the one must present a REAL ID to do so. Since she didn’t plan to utilize the airlines, and she did her international traveling when she was younger, she never bothered to get one.

    Well, the new ID here in CA requires an “original copy” (??) of her birth certificate and not the copy she has. She called San Diego and was told to receive such a copy, that she needed to fill out a form, have it notarized, and she could expect to receive it about eight weeks. She then called the State and was told that the turn-around time for the REAL ID was about two months. Add to that the waiting period of ten days to the deal, and she is looking at well over a four-month wait to exercise her 2nd amendment rights. Gee. How cool.

    1. How is this requirement not racist?

      1. As much as I like to disparage CA at every opportunity (I lived there for most of my life), I can’t see how this is racist. “Classist?” Absolutely.

          1. I apologize for forgetting that, and stand corrected.

      2. The requirement is sexist, because the story is about a woman.

    2. Tell her to come over the border to Arizona and buy a rifle from a dealer.

      As long as its a longarm legal in your home state (in this case, CA compliant) you can purchase across the border through an FFL.

      Or . . . and I’m just spitballing here, or, she could just come across and talk to a guy who knows a guy who won’t demand she produce ID in a private sale because its not a legal requirement to do so and as long as she keeps her mouth shut about where she’s from . . .

      But, IANAL, and that is not legal advice.

      1. If she purchases a rifle out-of-state, to keep in compliance with State law, she has to have it shipped to an in-state firearms dealer, to who, apparently, she will have to present a REAL ID. CA REALLY doesn’t like guns. She’d rather not break the law.

    3. But Obama said it was easier to get a gun than a library book!

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  8. Are libertarians still stuck in a mode where this is protesting? That is some serious denialism going on if so.

    1. I don’t think they are in denial. I think reason knows full well what is going on, they just now support violence and looting as long as it is done by leftists.

      1. It’s not new. I noticed it around the time of the pipeline and inauguration riots.

  9. As someone said above, looting and vandalism is not protesting. This law isn’t cracking down on protesters. This law is cracking down on criminals. The fact that reason claims this is cracking down on protesters means that reason associates protesting with violence, theft and other crime and that the first Amendment somehow gives people the right to commit crimes. It doesn’t.

    It is clear that the previous penalties were not deterring people from rioting and trespassing on government property. The government should then increase the punishments so that they are not deterrents.

    There is not a single word in this article about property rights or the people harmed by these riots. Reason has completely walked away from any support for lawful property ownership or law and order. All reason cares about is the rights of rioters, thieves and vandals.

    Worst of all, it associates the just punishment of actual criminals with the unjust punishment of drug users and other people guilty of victimless crimes. In doing so reason shits all over the cause of criminal justice reform. Reason makes justice reform synonymous with fascist thugs blocking highways, destroying or making government property unusable and rioting. Way to go dumb asses. Way to make commitment to a fair justice system associated with the support of brownshirt leftist thugs.

    1. How could instituting draconian mandatory minimum felony punishments for vaguely defined victimless crimes ever go wrong? The governments intentions are good, and that’s all that matters to statists like John.

      1. Yes because tthe only thing that matters is the right of leftists to steal and burn shit down. You people don’t give a fuck about the victims of all this. All you fucking care about is cheering on the criminals who loot and riot. It is either this or allow the public to take care of it. I am pretty sure the public will leave your leftist heroes dead. So you should be thankful this is all that is happening.

        1. Would you like to set up some more strawmen?

  10. The harsher penalties were hammered out and passed in mid-August over the objection of Democratic lawmakers

    This is bullshit Shackford. You are a fucking journalist, try acting like one and provide evidence to support your insinuation that this is some kind of Republican overreaching crackdown. Did you research the history of this law or just read most of an article?

    Because here is a quote from the article you linked: Rep. Johnny Shaw, a Democrat from Bolivar, called the bill “a great piece of legislation,” and then went on to qualify that he didn’t want to vote yes on this because his constituents would get the wrong impression.

    The Democrats are up to their eyeballs in overreach on everything. Don’t give them a pass just because they are paying careful attention to the optics and not voting on stuff they know will pass anyway.

    1. What part of the byline don’t you understand?

    2. You are a fucking journalist, try acting like one and provide evidence to support your insinuation


      1. Exactly. Those old farts think facts are something concrete.
        Accusation implies guilt, everyone woke knows that.
        The only exception is if the accuser ever knew a Republican; then their accusations are just whining.

  11. See, this is the problem with binary choices, you support the commies or you support the cops. There’s no nuance that the cops are authoritarian shitbags and we need a bunch of police reforms, but we don’t need to do away with the police altogether nor do we need to fund a shitload of alternative police. If you want to fight the commies, you’re going to have to support giving the cops a pay raise, a parade, unlimited free passes to bash hippies, and a free blow job.

    1. Don’t exaggerate, the undercover cops actually pay for the blow jobs, that is necessary for the arrest. It is just that they use our tax dollars to do the paying.

      1. Do they get to asset forfeiture their money back after the arrest?

        1. Look at the big brain on Moonrocks over here! I can tell, you’re an up and comer.

  12. Old Black Democrat civil rights veterans like the bill:

    But Memphis Rep. John DeBerry, ousted from the state Democratic party earlier this year, and Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, are two Black members who said they liked the bill. Both men experienced the civil rights movement.

    While Shaw ultimately voted against it, saying in a committee meeting that constituents misunderstood what the bill would and wouldn’t do, DeBerry drew resounding applause from Republicans in the House as he gave an impassioned speech in support of the legislation. DeBerry recalled his and his father’s participation in rallies with Martin Luther King Jr., and his father’s insistence that they stay away from any event that turned violent.

    1. You found a black person who agrees with you. That’s amazing.

      1. I’m actually old enough to remember the civil rights demonstrations of the sixties and the current “protests” have nothing in common with that era. MLK based his campaign on the strategies of Ghandi and in both cases non violence was the underlying requirement of participants. Today’s rioters are openly violent and gleefully burn down black businesses and kill black people. And the vast majority are 20 something white punks who’ve never experienced a moments repression in their lives. The sixties demonstrators were mostly black people who had personally experienced Jim Crow discrimination and they did not return the violence of the state nor did they destroy their neighbors property. In the end they won the hearts and minds of the majority because their cause was just. These punks don’t even have an articulable cause. They just like burning shit.

    2. “his father’s insistence that they stay away from any event that turned violent”

      The legislation turned violent and there he was.

      1. A troll says what?

  13. “The real triumph of the state occurs when its subjects refer to it as “we,” like football fans talking about the home team.” ― Joseph Sobran

  14. The ACLU says: “We…are urging Tennesseans to get out and vote like their rights depend on it.” WTF? They voted for rights protection and got rights violations. How is the solution to continue to use the same process, the same politics, to get the opposite result? The old politics is forfeiture of individual sovereignty to a ruling elite. It didn’t work. It NEVER works. Begging rulers harder, voting harder, is futile.
    Boycott the age-old, failed, coercive politics of a violent monopoly who get to rule, to dictate, to violate rights, to be cruel and unreasonable with public support. Remove support from all govt., from the idea that a few have authority over all. Denounce their authority, establish your own, i.e., self-govern. Obey no more, Pay no more. Live free, be proud to exercise your sovereignty. Or, be subservient, let them boss you around, it’s your choice.

    1. And to Hell with voting Libertarian, right? Now we know which anarchist sockpuppet was advising the guy who just got shot in the back seven times.

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  16. I could watch Republican fascist and Democratic communist infiltrators harangue Reason for not backing their aggression all the way to the polls. How about an investigative Reason article on how these looter vermin got their hooks into the National Libertarian Party to the point of elbowing aside Hornberger and installing the communist anarchist as a running mate to albatross Jo’s campaign?

  17. This law is unfortunate, because we have more than enough laws already. Including in Tennessee, I suspect. Enough to defend against all of the things this law is intended to defend against. But, of course, they also have enough laws in Portland, which radical leftists / democrats choose not to enforce. So, presumably, this law is really intended to prevent Portland from coming to Tennessee, requiring local jurisdictions to actually enforce the laws already on the books. Sad, but predictable. And fully the result of Marxists in power elsewhere. Evidently letting violent left wing mobs terrorize once great cities has consequences.

    1. Blocking a highway should be a felony. Law doesn’t go far enough

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  19. Looks like Tennessee is not going to allow rioters to take over the streets.

  20. Hmmm…so now “protesting” has consequences? What a novel idea! Wonder why someone didn’t think of this sooner?

    If “protests” were really just protests rather than an excuse to loot, burn, threaten, or beat others, etc., there wouldn’t be a need for such laws. Remember, protesting, like terrorism, is continually amplified until the desired results are achieved…or until someone intervenes. No one in Portland intervened, and see what that “protest” has led to. Someone finally intervened in Seattle, but consider the cost in human life and suffering for waiting so long.

  21. “For 61 straight days, protesters have camped outside the Tennessee Capitol in Nashville,”

    “On Wednesday, the GOP-dominated legislature responded — by passing a bill making camping on state property, including the Capitol grounds, a felony.

    The bill’s backers described the legislation, which also stiffens penalties for protesters who spit on police, block streets and disrupt meetings, as a necessary tool to battle violent demonstrations.”

    After 2 months of disrupting everyone else’s lives the state changed the law so that they can’t camp out on public property for months.

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