State lawmakers have proposed making it illegal to squat on public property – a move to get rid of the “Occupy Nashville” protesters, whose tents line the War Memorial Plaza just outside the General Assembly’s offices.
Eric Watson, a Republican from Cleveland, filed a House bill to make it a misdemeanor to “maintain living quarters” on publicly owned property not designated for residential use.
It also makes it a misdemeanor offense to “pose a health hazard or threat” to public safety. Violators could be thrown off the property and be liable for any damages.
The Senate version of the bill is sponsored by Dolores Gresham, a Republican from Somerville. Both Watson and Gresham declined to comment until next week.
Protesters at the “Occupy Nashville” site say they had been expecting the move to try to force them off the Plaza. So far they’ve been protected by a federal court order that keeps the state from removing the demonstrators.
They’ve been there for 104 days.
The Senate version of the bill has already been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both sponsors say they intend to say more about the bill next week.
The bill is SB 2508 Gresham/ HB 2638 Watson.
The Occupy Nashville group has about 45 tents on the Legislative Plaza, two Porta-potties, and several Metro Nashville rolling trashcans. Demonstrators say they routinely clean up after themselves.
Offenses of the proposed law would be Class C misdemeanors. Law enforcement officers say that a Class C misdemeanor would entail a $50 fine and potentially some jail time – although that’s not a routine punishment at that level of offense.
Dorsey Malina, who identifies herself as a member of the Occupy Nashville “legal defense team,” says the group is reviewing the proposed law and will have a comment on it later.