Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has signed a bill that increased legal punishment for protests throughout the state.
Under Lee’s new legislation, demonstrators who illegally camp on state property will face a Class E felony. Class E felonies in the state are punishable by up to six years in prison. Furthermore, those who are convicted of felonies in the state lose the right to vote.
In addition, aggravated rioting now garners a 45 day sentence in jail. Also, the fine for blocking highway access to emergency vehicles has now increased. Finally, the bill now classifies aggravated assault against a first responder as a Class C felony.
“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,” ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said.
“While the governor often speaks about sentencing reform, this bill contradicts those words and wastes valuable taxpayer funds to severely criminalize dissent,” Weinberg added.
Lee and other Republicans have defended the bill by alluding to fires that have been set inside and outside of a courthouse in May.