Lawmakers File Bill to Evict Occupy Nashville

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State lawmakers introduced legislation today to evict Occupy Nashville. Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, and Sen. Delores Gresham, R-Somerville, are trying to circumvent a federal court injunction barring the state from clearing Legislative Plaza of protesters.

The bill makes it a misdemeanor to “maintain living quarters on publicly owned property that is not designated or permitted for residential use.” It outlaws any “use or assembly upon publicly owned property” that’s deemed to “pose a health hazard or threat to the safety or welfare of another person using, assembling upon, or employed to work upon that property.” It authorizes police to remove violators and makes them liable for any property damage.

Occupy Nashville attorney David Briley called the bill “a ham-handed attempt” to oust the demonstrators. The first ham-handed attempt didn’t work too well, you’ll recall, and Briley tells Pith he doesn’t think this one will either.

It would run into the same constitutional problems as the state’s much-ridiculed curfew in that it obviously targets the protesters and aims to stifle free speech on the plaza—a forum created for public assemblies.

“Can they pass this? They can try and might well do it,” Briley says. “I’m not sure that it would deal with the constitutional problems that the state already has. To me, it’s definitely subject to the same First Amendment analysis. It seems retaliatory. I don’t see any other reason to do it.”

Gov. Haslam used public-health and indecency complaints from state legislators and workers as justification for arresting protesters in October. U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger stopped the arrests with her injunction after declaring the governor’s crackdown—based on the hurriedly imposed curfew—was clearly an unconstitutional restraint of free speech.

Since then, the governor has said he wants to follow state law and hold public hearings about new regulations for use of the plaza. The state hopes these new regulations, which have yet to be proposed, will eventually become grounds for Trauger to lift her injunction. Haslam has said he would oppose any attempt by the legislature to pass an eviction law in the meantime.

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