NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL)- A bill criminalizing those experiencing homelessness for sleeping or camping on public property is heading to Governor Bill Lee’s desk.
The bill passed 57-28-6 earlier this week and is co-sponsored by Rep. Tim Hicks of Gray.
It expands the Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012, which made it a Class E felony to camp on state-owned property, to now include all public property.
It will prohibit people from soliciting or camping on bridges, overpasses, and underpasses.
The bill would also make camping along a controlled-access highway, entrance, or exit ramp a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a “either a $50 fine and a sentence to 20-40 hours of community service work, or a sentence of 20-40 hours of litter removal.”
State Representative Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport) is the only House Representative from the News Channel 11 viewing area who voted against the bill.
“I don’t think that this bill really provides an avenue to solve the problem at all,” he told News Channel 11. “There is no way, I don’t think, from a prosecutorial side to really do anything with this problem.”
Hulsey says he isn’t sure what the answer to homelessness is, but he said he knows writing citations and giving fines isn’t the answer.
“It’s just like a traffic ticket with a $50 fine, and, to me, it does absolutely nothing to help this problem,” he said. “And there is another side of it too. I don’t know where they’re going to go. I don’t want them camping in your front yard, and I don’t want them camping in my front yard, and I don’t want them camping in the doorway of a business downtown.”
Hulsey has experience in law enforcement. He says it isn’t wise to put the burden of enforcing this on police unless that enforcement is consistent.
“The fact of being homeless is not criminal, so I don’t have the answer on what to do, but I don’t know that this is the route to go other than enforcement of law equally and across the board,” Hulsey said. “You’re going to tax officers with how effective is this going to be. Some chiefs very well may opt-out and say ‘don’t enforce this. We’re not going to do this.'”