State House passes Occupy 'eviction bill' - WSMV Channel 4

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State House passes Occupy 'eviction bill'

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV-AP) -

A proposal aimed at stopping Occupy Nashville protesters from staying overnight on the Capitol complex has passed the House.

The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Eric Watson of Cleveland was approved 70-26 after a lengthy debate on Thursday. The companion bill was to be heard on the Senate floor, but the upper chamber adjourned before hearing the legislation.

The proposal would make it a misdemeanor to lay down "bedding for the purpose of sleeping."

It refers to items associated with camping, "including tents, portable toilets, sleeping bags, tarps, propane heaters, cooking equipment and generators."

Under the legislation, violators would be fined as much as $2,500 and face up to nearly a year in jail.

Protesters have camped at the plaza since early October. At one time there were as many as 60 tents, but that number is now less than half.

"This is the only way these people listen. It says in the First Amendment you can file grievances to your government. I'm filing a grievance to my government. They. Are. Wrong," protester Lisa Leeds said.

The State Senate was also scheduled to vote on the bill but will now address the issue next week.

Occupy members had some supporters among lawmakers who believe this plan will limit free speech and carries an excessive penalty.

"We're making this ongoing protest a more serious crime than walking onto somebody's private property that they paid for and trespass," said Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville.

Gov. Bill Haslam has stated he will consult with the state attorney general before signing the bill into law.

TIMELINE OF OCCUPY NASHVILLE

It's been four months since Occupy Nashville first took up camp at the State Capitol.  However, a series of controversies have kept the group in the headlines.

Oct. 6: The Occupy movement first came to Nashville with protests in West End and downtown.

Demonstrators said they wanted to show support for "Occupy Wall Street," which had been growing for weeks.

Oct. 8: The group set up camp at legislative plaza and vowed to stay there until the government changed.

As the movement grew, so did complaints about crime and fights on Legislative Plaza. Occupy members later asked for extra police protection.

By the end of the month, state officials imposed an evening curfew on the plaza.

Oct. 28: Protesters refused to leave.  State troopers moved in early Oct. 28 and arrested two dozen protesters.

Oct. 29: Troopers arrested more protesters.

But both times a night judge said the state couldn't legally remove the protestors, who were later released from jail.

Oct. 30: The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit asking for an injunction to stop the curfew and arrests. A federal judge agreed with the ACLU.

From there, the group pressed on, even trying to occupy an abandoned state building.

February:  A bill to outlaw camping on state property that's not designated for that purpose passed its first subcommittee.

Copyright WSMV 2012 (Meredith Corporation). The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.

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