Lawmakers in Tennessee have passed legislation to crack down on violent demonstrations amid a tumultuous summer.
Lee made no announcement upon signing HB8005 into law.
The law imposes strict punishments on people found guilty of certain crimes during protests, crimes that now will be classified as felonies. Being classified as felons would, by proxy, prevent some people from voting in elections.
The bill says it “imposes a mandatory minimum 45-day prison sentence for aggravated rioting,” which includes activities such as blocking highways for first responders, and could impose a six-year prison sentence on individuals who illegally camp on government property.
Such an offense now will be a Class E Felony in the Volunteer State.
Other changes to the law will make it much simpler for courts and law enforcement to arrest rioters and keep them behind bars.
“A person who commits vandalism by knowingly damaging or destroying government property without consent is subject to punishment in the same manner as theft, based on the value of the property,” the bill says.
“Generally, a property’s value is based on fair market value or replacement cost. This bill adds that, for vandalism offenses involving government property, the property’s value includes the fair market value of repairing, cleaning, and restoring the property.”
The bill also creates a “Class C felony offense of aggravated assault against a first responder who is discharging or attempting to discharge the first responder’s official duties,” of which “The punishment for aggravated assault of a first responder will be a $15,000 fine and a mandatory minimum 90-day prison sentence.”
Additionally, the bill creates a new misdemeanor offense specifically crafted for those accused of assaulting first responders.
The punishment for that offense can be at least 30 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Going forward, anyone accused of riotous behavior will spend a minimum of 12 hours in jail.
The Associated Press reported the American Civil Liberties Union had urged Lee to refrain from signing the bill into law.
The group expressed its displeasure with Lee’s decision in a statement to the AP.
“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,” Hedy Weinberg , executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, said in a statement.
“While the governor often speaks about sentencing reform, this bill contradicts those words and wastes valuable taxpayer funds to severely criminalize dissent.”
Lee stated there were portions of HB8005 he “would have done differently,” although he did not specify what changes he would have made.
“I think what we saw was a courthouse on fire and businesses being broken into and vehicles being damaged. We saw lawlessness that needed to be addressed immediately,” Lee said Thursday in defense of the new law, according to Fox News.
Tennessee’s most notable incident regarding civil unrest this year came in May, when Democratic Nashville Mayor John Cooper invited citizens upset over the death of George Floyd to join him for a protest in the city.
I urge all of my colleagues in the Metro Council to join me at today’s “I Will Breathe” rally. This is an especially critical time for all of us, as Metro’s leaders, to show up and listen to Black voices speaking out from across Davidson County. pic.twitter.com/6PToIvbW6y
— Mayor John Cooper (@JohnCooper4Nash) May 30, 2020
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