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.”

Not natural? Lee declines signature for bill treating people who have had COVID-19 same as vaccinated

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters after a bill signing ceremony in Nashville on May 24, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A bill declaring previous COVID-19 infections to be same as having been vaccinated has become law in Tennessee without the signature of Republican Gov. Bill Lee.

The measure was sponsored by Rep. Bud Hulsey of Kingsport and Sen. Joey Hensley, a Hohenwald physician. Both are Republicans. The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 26-5 in the Senate and 66-20 in the House.

The bill defines natural immunity as being verified by a lab test or a letter for a licensed physician. Critics said the latter does not require any scientific proof to be established.

The Tennessee Constitution gives the governor 10 days (excluding Sundays) from receipt of a bill to sign, veto, or allow the measure to become law without his signature.

The governor took similar action on a recent bill seeking to establish a three-year residency requirement for congressional candidates to run in Tennessee primaries. By waiting for the entire period before declining to affix his signature, the bill didn’t become law until after the candidate filing deadline.

Lee declines to sign teacher training bill over cost dispute

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters after a bill signing ceremony in Nashville on May 24, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has declined to sign a bill sponsored by Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) and Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) allowing school districts to establish their own teacher training programs.

The governor’s objections had less to do with the bill’s substance than concerns that the fiscal note was revised from $470,000 to “not significant,” despite his administration presenting evidence to the contrary. The lack of funding for the program is “something that will need to be addressed” in the upcoming budget year, Lee wrote.

Lee has not vetoed any bill since coming into office in 2019 and he’s now only allowed three to become law without his signature. In 2019, he didn’t sign the bill creating Tennessee’s online sports gambling program. In 2020, he declined to sign a resolution ratifying the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board’s increase in the 911 surcharge from $1.16 to $1.50. The latter was also sponsored by Bowling.

Here’s a copy of the letter Lee sent to House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and his Senate counterpart, Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge):

Dear Speaker Sexton and Lieutenant Governor McNally:

I am writing to inform you that I am returning HB1534/SB653 to become law without my signature. As our state faces a teacher shortage, we support alternative pathways to teacher licensure. These efforts cut back red tape and ensure more qualified professionals can teach our students. I am not signing the bill solely because of a cost discrepancy.

Unfortunately, this legislation incurs a cost that was not accounted for by Fiscal Review during the legislative process. Fiscal Review adjusted the fiscal note downward from several hundred thousand dollars to “not significant.” At the end of the legislative session, our team provided Fiscal Review with evidence of the costs associated with implementation and asked for correction.

The requested correction was not made, and the lack of adequate funding to support this legislation is something that will need to be addressed in the budget process in the year ahead in order to ensure proper implementation.

With your continued partnership, we have once again created and enacted a balanced budget that maintains Tennessee’s position as a leader in fiscal responsibility. We must be vigilant about thoroughly accounting for costs in the fiscal review process to ensure we maintain that fiscal prudence.

Our team at the Department of Education is available to discuss the cost assumptions on this matter at your convenience. We will also communicate our concerns with the bill sponsors and relevant committee chairs.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this fiscal matter and I look forward to supporting more qualified teachers in our state.



Bill Lee


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