camping

Lee doesn’t sign bill banning camping on public property

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters outside the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee has declined to sign a bill criminalizing camping on public property, allowing the measure to become law without his approval.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) and Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) has been criticized as targeting homeless people. The measure defines camping as erecting temporary structures, cooking, or sleeping outside of a motor vehicle.

Lee earlier this week expressed concerned about “unintended consequences” contained within the bill, but didn’t elaborate.

During the debate over the measure, Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) gained national attention for delivering what he called a “history lesson” about Adolf Hilter and homelessness.

“In 1910, Hitler decided to live on the streets for a while,” Niceley said. “So for two years, Hitler lived on the streets and practiced his oratory and his body language and how to connect with the masses, and then went on to lead a life that’s got him into history books.” 

Niceley said homelessness shouldn’t be considered a “dead end.”

“They can come out of this, these homeless camps, and have a productive life,” he said. “Or in Hitler’s case, a very unproductive life.”