Bill to Evict Occupy Nashville Passes Final Vote, Goes to Governor

The long-debated bill to clear the protest group Occupy Nashville is headed to the governor’s desk for a signature. Monday night the state House concurred with changes made in the Senate.

Occupy Nashville set up its tents on the Legislature Plaza in October, and the bill to make that illegal showed up in January.

The final version, sent to the House by the Senate, has a rarely enacted “severability clause.” Such language usually means the lawmakers think some part may not stand up to a court test. In that case, they want to be sure the rest of the law remains on the books.

Nashville Democrat Gary Odom speculates that even the sponsors may fear they’ve have gone too far with the $2,500 penalty for a trespassing misdemeanor.

“I think the real question here is the severity of the penalty, and the question as to its constitutionality.”

Meanwhile, Governor Bill Haslam has indicated he will continue to address the protest group through regulations, which are up for hearing in April.

The governor has ten days to sign the bill, after which it would go into law without his signature.

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The bill is HB 2638 Watson/SB 2508 Gresham.

The bill passed in the House 70-26 on February 16. It was sent to the Senate for further action. The Senate rewrote the bill into a new form – a preamble, justifying the action, a description of the new offense of un-permitted camping on public property, and a penalty for a Class A misdemeanor – up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Odom says he voted against the bill the first time because of a penalty he thinks too severe for the offense. The severability clause added in the Senate is an attempt to keep the offense even if the penalty is struck down, Odom says.

“…because what the severability clause is about, obviously, is to say, whatever remains, if one of the three components here is struck down, that still remains the law.”

The Occupy Nashville camp has dwindled to a few tents in the days since the bill first passed the House, with protesters saying they are looking for a new camping venue to continue making their political statement.

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