Tennessee signs bill increasing penalties related to political protests to felonies, which could revoke right to vote

“While the governor often speaks about sentencing reform, this bill contradicts those words and wastes valuable taxpayer funds to severely criminalize dissent.”

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Political protesters might soon lose their right to vote in Tennessee. Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill that increases certain penalties related to political protests to a felony and if convicted, automatically strips a person’s right to vote.

With more than 420,000 residents disenfranchised because of prior felony convictions, Tennessee is one of many states trying to “crack down” on protesting, MotherJones reported. According to statistics, only about 12,000 of the 420,000 disenfranchised residents regained their right to vote since 1990, which equates to more than 20 percent being Black Tennesseans.

The passage of the bill was in direct response to two consecutive months of anti-racism protests in which activists camped outside the state capitol building in Nashville, some state legislators claimed, and now makes it illegal to set up camp on state property as well as “increases penalties for assaulting a first responder, obstructing emergency vehicles, and rioting,” MotherJones reported. But many civil liberty advocated criticized the lawmakers’ decision calling it “detrimental” to free speech

“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,” Hedy Weinberg, executive director of ACLU of Tennessee, said. “While the governor often speaks about sentencing reform, this bill contradicts those words and wastes valuable taxpayer funds to severely criminalize dissent.”

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