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Tennessee to make unauthorized camping on public lands a felony

Tennessee is poised to become the first state to make unauthorized camping on public lands a felony.

The move is intended to cut into the rising tide of homeless camping on public property, including parks and highways. The Tennessee Senate voted 20-10 in April to advance the camping felony bill. The Tennessee House passed a version of the new law last year.

Public pressure to do something about the increasing number of highly visible homeless encampments has pushed even many traditionally liberal cities in the U.S. to clear them out. Although camping has generally been regulated by local vagrancy laws, Texas passed a statewide ban last year. Municipalities that fail to enforce the ban risk losing state funding. Several other states have introduced similar bills, but Tennessee is the only one to make camping a felony.

This week, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee declined to sign off on the new legislation, but it still became law because Lee refused to enact a veto of the new law.

SB1610 expanded the Tennessee Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012 to include city and county public property. It previously only included state and private property. Camping on any public property not designated for camping use is now a Class E felony in Tennessee.

The law also makes soliciting or camping alongside roadways or bridges illegal as a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a $50 fine or community service.

Bill won’t stop flood of new homeless residents

Opponents say the legislation will do nothing to stop the flood of new homeless residents and may in fact make it harder for them to escape homelessness if they have a felony on their record. Governor Lee said the new law will likely have “unintended consequences.”

Those consequences include a possible increase in prison populations due to the felony penalties for homeless people camping illegally, Lee said.

The governor said the intent of the law was to use the state’s parks and city property as originally intended.

Lee said he’d like to pursue partnerships with non-profit organizations to better combat homelessness.

“Government has a responsibility there to partner with these nonprofits, with churches, with groups that are advocacy groups for the homeless to find a way forward. That’s what I want to see happen in our state,” Lee said.

Sponsors openly stated that the law is targeted to keep the state’s homeless population from taking up residence on public lands and roadways. The law requires that violators receive at least 24 hours’ notice before an arrest. The felony charge is punishable by up to six years in prison and the loss of voting rights.

A long legal history

Some are concerned that the new law will cause problems for more than the homeless population.

In 2012, the State of Tennessee passed the “Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012”, which banned camping on state-owned property. The Act was created in response to the “Occupy Nashville” movement in which protesters erected tents on the state-owned War Memorial Plaza.



The Act made it illegal to camp on any state-owned property that was not designated for camping. A person can only be charged with violating this act if he or she was informed by an officer and failed to remove themselves and their belongings.

The term “camping” was given a specific definition to include erecting any kind of shelter, or other bedding, as well as the act of sleeping and the act of cooking. Just the act of sleeping on state-owned property qualifies as “camping”.

The Act exempted all state-owned campgrounds, or other state properties where camping is allowed.

However, it now appears sleeping in any private vehicle on public land not approved for camping is illegal. As long as you placed your tent, RV or any other vehicle on publicly owned property with the intent of sleeping or cooking, it meets the law’s definition of “camping” and is therefore subject to the penalties.

“It’s going to be up to prosecutors … if they want to issue a felony,” bill sponsor Sen. Paul Bailey said. “But it’s only going to come to that if people really don’t want to move.”

The bill adds local public property to the existing camping felony penalties that are possible for camping on state property if the place is not designated for people to camp there. The felony is punishable by up to six years in prison. Felony convictions in Tennessee result in the revocation of an individual’s right to vote. Arrests on local public property would have to be preceded by a warning at least 24 hours earlier. Items used to camp could be confiscated by authorities for 90 days, or longer if they are needed for evidence in a criminal case.

Several other states have introduced similar bills, but Tennessee is the only one trying to make unauthorized camping a felony.

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Tony V
26 days ago

One cellmate to another; “So, how did you end up here in prison?”
“I spent the night in a van, down by the river”.

Mike
13 days ago
Reply to  Tony V

The governor is engaging in treason in a seditious conspiracy to promote invidious legislation that would abrogate protected rights to rest on public property. Just in case you were wondering what he’s doing right now along with all the others that are voting on this are committing felonies with impunity because nobody knows how to articulate their crimes like I do. So once they pull off their felony they pass on the criminal penalty to us and make felons out of us since they had complete impunity to do so.

NB
27 days ago
What do you think about this?" Read more »

This is really outrageous. Being in a camper means you have some form of home. So their solution for homelessness is imprisonment? What a bunch of good folks – lending a helping hand to the poor, getting 3 meals a day and a roof for up to 6 years.

Mike
13 days ago
Reply to  NB

The governor is engaging in treason in a seditious conspiracy to promote invidious legislation that would abrogate protected rights to rest on public property. Just in case you were wondering what he’s doing right now along with all the others that are voting on this are committing felonies with impunity because nobody knows how to articulate their crimes like I do. So once they pull off their felony they pass on the criminal penalty to us and make felons out of us since they had complete impunity to do so.

Rita
27 days ago

So I’m assuming that this includes over the road truck drivers as well? If they pull over to sleep?

Mike
13 days ago
Reply to  Rita

Anyone pulling over. They force capitalism on us. We are being farmed.

The governor is engaging in treason in a seditious conspiracy to promote invidious legislation that would abrogate protected rights to rest on public property. Just in case you were wondering what he’s doing right now along with all the others that are voting on this are committing felonies with impunity because nobody knows how to articulate their crimes like I do. So once they pull off their felony they pass on the criminal penalty to us and make felons out of us since they had complete impunity to do so.

Todd Lary
28 days ago
What do you think about this?" Read more »

After reading the Article I don’t believe that this law is specifically targeting the Typical RV traveler who only wants to rest for a few hours. However we all know, or have heard stories of, overzealous Police Officers who want to demonstrate their Authority. I suspect this is going to be in the news very often in the coming months.

Mike
13 days ago
Reply to  Todd Lary

Flattery is strong with you… It’s meant to make felons of anyone not equipped to rest in hiding on any private property. Homeless.

Ted
28 days ago
What do you think about this?" Read more »

I have been RV’ing for over 5 years. I know homelessness is a public problem. I commend TN for trying something to combat this problem.I feel a 24 hour warning is fair. Consequences for lawlessness actions is an America problem. Laws without consequences mean nothing. Maybe TN will set a precedence for the northwest homeless pandemic?

tommyj
29 days ago

If your charged with a felony your branded for life. Good luck ever getting a decent job. Seems being that harsh is going to ruin a lot of lives because you had some bad luck in bad times and need a place to sleep !!!! Even third world countries make spaces for the squatters to live. Term limits for all these do nothing government slugs. Nothing is going to get better till we face some facts… It’s impossible for many politician to become multi millionaires on their salaries but we just ignore that.

Kim
29 days ago
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A Punishment is not the Solution . Treat people the way You would want to be treated. Homeless need help, stop the elitist greedy attitudes. Wake up, we’re All connected on this planet !

rollin mckim
29 days ago

A felony seems a bit more than harsh.

I mean, in a culture that lets criminals arrested for arson and mayhem and worse get a revolving door from our so called justice system, you’re making camping a felony? What’s the fine or penalty for not paying the fine? A week in jail? So why not go directly with a week in jail, rather than a stupid felony charge?

Last edited 29 days ago by rollin mckim
Judy floor
29 days ago
What do you think about this?" Read more »

What about rest stops?

Mike
13 days ago
Reply to  Judy floor

That’s public property. Welcome to hell. You’re now considered “homeless”.

Bobby
29 days ago
What do you think about this?" Read more »

Typical response. Why don’t they go after the landlords that are screwing people out of their housing by raising the rent so high? But who knows, perhaps being in prison with a roof over your head and 3 meals a day would be an improvement to what poor people are facing today. The homeless don’t choose to be homeless, it is the {bleeped} who drive them out. Some day they will answer for their behavior screwing people.

Last edited 8 days ago by Kim Christiansen
Lois
29 days ago
Reply to  Bobby

I agree with you. I would phrase differently, but your delivery is correct.

Sharon N
29 days ago
Reply to  Bobby

I agree with you for the most part but there are many homeless who DO want to remain homeless. There are lots of shelters and other organization that try to help get the homeless off the street but they choose to remain on the streets. For those homeless people, I believe mental illness is a factor.

tommyj
29 days ago
Reply to  Sharon N

I was at a city council meeting in Seattle wa. my home town. Most everyone agreed that some of the homeless are drug addicts. So it was brought up that there is a old empty prison called McNeal island that has just been sitting there and there are no plans to ever use it. It would be a great place to put those drug users and rehab them. It’s out in Puget Sound so no neighbors to bother. Turn it into self hard core drug addict rehab. But, oh no… the city bought motels and gave the druggies free heroin instead.

Happy RVer
29 days ago
Reply to  Bobby

Most landlords are small mom and pop operations. We are not out to ‘screwing ‘ our tenants, we want long-term tenants….turnover costs us money. We have been under
a rent increase moratorium since March 2020, but water, trash and property taxes have gone up over 25% since March 2020….that’s money out of our pocket for the services our tenants are using. This is our retirement income to live on. I’m at a loss as why our local govt can raise taxes on us during this period, but not let us pass that increase onto our tenants. We have had to pay our bills during covid, even when tenants weren’t paying rent. Not sure why people think landlords should provide housing for free, but grocery stores or gas stations didn’t have to provide their products for free during that terrible time. The govt should be helping these people

KellyR
29 days ago
Reply to  Happy RVer

Happy RVer, I have to agree. We are a mom & pop renter. We have a good long term renter who lost her job over Covid. We have adjusted or waived some months rent to help her out the best we can, but this last year her rent payments did not cover our taxes and insurance on the house. Having her live there is costing us money right now. We do not know how long we can continue to help. She got another job, but not enough to pay us our break even rent. Not all landlords are money grubbing people. We hope this all turns around pretty soon. Yep, we are retired and it hurts, but we are not going to put someone on the street, nor do we want to lose the house to the gov’t for taxes..

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
29 days ago
Reply to  KellyR

You and your spouse are very good people, Kelly. This world needs a lot more like you. Thank you! Hugs won’t help with your expenses, but I’m sending them to you anyway. Take care. 🙂 –Diane

KellyR
29 days ago
Reply to  RV Staff

Thank you Diane. We try to be nice. In some respects, on some days, it seems this world has turned upside down. If we all quit complaining and paid the grocery bill for someone in line, We JUST MIGHT be able to START turning things around. (Sorry, end of sermon, but I do get a bit frustrated sometimes.)

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
29 days ago
Reply to  KellyR

I agree with you, Kelly. And it is very frustrating. Have a good night. 🙂 –Diane

Kim
29 days ago
Reply to  KellyR

The government gave every state money for the tenants who didn’t/couldn’t pay, you as the landlord could apply if your tenant didn’t.

Admin
Kim Christiansen(@imkimc)
8 days ago
Reply to  Bobby

Bobby, DO NOT try to get around our profanity filter by mistyping swear words. This is a family friendly PG website and doing that will result in a ban from commenting.

Thanks,
-Kim

Bobby
8 days ago

Yes, it certainly “Family Friendly”. Raise rentals rates way beyond anything reasonable above your costs (especially rental business) just because you can. It is pay me another $700 a month or get evicted. Why, because I as a landlord can do so as you have no other place to go and the market says I can. These people are totally a bunch of (fill in your description, as long as it is friendly). Ban me if that will make you happy. I don’t give a (fill in a word)! I HATE people taking advantage of the poor and powerless just because they can.

Admin
Kim Christiansen(@imkimc)
7 days ago
Reply to  Bobby

I didn’t say anything about the content of your post except that you tried to bypass our language censor. This is specifically disallowed in our terms of service to which you agreed when you posted. You can’t post without agreeing to them.

Perhaps you should have read them before posting.
Banning you gives me no pleasure, but your apparent inability to be civil and to respect both your fellow RVers and the staff who make this site possible leave us no other choice.

Safe Travels
-Kim

Don W
29 days ago

There is a huge difference between “camping” and squatting on public lands, the USFS land around my neck of the woods is filled with squatters who trash the area and then move on to another location and repeat the process. This problem has continued to get worse and USFS LEO’s rarely enforce the laws on the books.

Jan Kuester
29 days ago

1) Don’t shoot the messenger. The article is an unbiased report.
2) You may or may not be happy with a new municipal law if you are from Olympia, WA. They are now giving permits to those who live in the broken down RVs a block from the city’s largest hospital. Oh yes, and they pump their tanks weekly. We’ll see how long this lasts.
3) Is this really the place to gather in opposite corners and bash each other? What I would hope to see on this forum are constructive ideas that we can share with our local and state governments and hope to build on. As responsible citizens, finding solutions that support those who are law abiding or mentally ill and homeless should be a great concern. What to do with those who are homeless and abusing illegal substances or or violent criminals is a real puzzle. We cannot legislate morality and personal responsibility. We can certainly look to municipalities who have been making progress with these concerns.
One such place is Salt Lake City.

Doc46
29 days ago

so instead of addressing the cause they legislate against the result.. typical government

Debbie
29 days ago

I agree with eliminating homeless encampments, but more needs to be said about how this affects RVers, the ones who read this newsletter. Will this eliminate overnights at Wal-Mart, etc.? Let’s step back from politics and concentrate on how this affects us.

Roger V
29 days ago
Reply to  Debbie

Walmart is private land, not public lands.

Enzo
29 days ago
What do you think about this?" Read more »

So as felons they may wind up in prisons rather than in homeless encampments. Then the prisons will fill up and other felons may be released to make room for the homeless felons, etc., etc. Sad all around.

Tom A B
29 days ago

Any law can and will be abused. While the intent may be good, depending on your point of view, the law will be applied in unintended ways, and that will effect RVers. Too tired to drive, or can’t find a spot to rent, pull over and nap for a couple of hours and risk a felony.

bill
29 days ago
Reply to  Tom A B

The authorities have to give you a warning to move at least 24 hours before arrest.

bull
29 days ago

Just to be CLEAR for those that wish to make this new Tennessee law a political issue.

There are 95 counties in the State of Tennessee.

Only 2 counties vote Democratic in local and Federal elections and they have done so for the last 50+ years.

Those 2 counties are Shelby County (Memphis) and Davidson County (Nashville).

Each county has Democratic leadership and has voted Democratic overall for 50 years plus.

The other 93 Tennessee counties have voted Republican for 50 years plus.

What you have here is no different that any other state with large cities including California. The large urban cities vote Democratic and the rural areas vote Republican.

Since the large urban area’s EVERYWHERE vote Democratic and these are the areas with huge homeless problems, urban blight and affordable housing problems you are NOT going to git those Democrats currently in power to change ANYTHING that would embolden their loyal voting population.

That means status quo NO CHANGE!

Last edited 29 days ago by bull
John Macatee
29 days ago
Reply to  bull

I agree.

Goodale Chuck
29 days ago
Reply to  bull

Agreed!

Uncle Swags
28 days ago
Reply to  bull

Well put bull. It is the business model to keep perpetuating problems and not solve them.

Candy Medina
29 days ago

I’m sure folks are going to respond with how Tennessee politicians don’t care about homeless people. Open your eyes and look around at the mess homeless people create. Most look like junk yards. When they move on, they leave all the trash for someone else to clean up. That clean up bill is going to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars of our tax money. If a homeless person would pitch a tent, sleep, than the next morning pack up his tent and move on, fine. Unfortunately they don’t do that, they become pack rats. Look at the slums of third world countries, that’s what we need to prevent.

Tina Courtright
29 days ago
What do you think about this?" Read more »

You fail to mention how this may or may not affect camping or sleepovers on federal land within Tennessee, could there be a difference?

bull
29 days ago

READ THE ARTICLE ABOVE!

“The Act exempted all state-owned campgrounds, or other state properties where camping is allowed.”

The State of Tennessee does not and cannot regulate Federal land/campgrounds.

Nick
29 days ago
Reply to  bull

Tina is correct… the article fails to mention federal land. A courtesy mention would make the article more complete. But you gotta slam Tina.

BILLY Bob Thronton
29 days ago

The US Constitution has what is referred to as the “supremacy clause”. That means no state law can supersede federal law. To put it simply, it doesnt apply to federal lands within the State of Tennessee.

This will be most evident this month, when Liberal NY State, gets slapped back for violating the constitution, on a second amendment issue. It really is that simple.

Keith
29 days ago
What do you think about this?" Read more »

Good way to fill-up the prisons so the taxpayer can pay to support them.

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