A guy could soon face steep penalties for attempting to impress women in bars with bogus claims of combat heroism following the Senate’s passage Monday of a bill that criminalizes impersonating military personnel.
The measure, HB2491/SB2287, makes it a Class B misdemeanor to falsely represent yourself as a military service-member with the intent to deceive — whether or not any benefit is received. The offense would carry a fine of up to $500, as well as the possibility of six months in jail.
The bill passed the Senate easily, 33-0, and the House almost as easily on Feb. 16, 93-2, with Knoxville Republicans Rep. Bill Dunn and Sen. Becky Massey, neither of whom are veterans, sponsoring the measure.
“You know, there are people going into bars, and trying to get free drinks by passing themselves off as military people,” Dunn said. “And once again, they’re stealing something that others rightfully earned by putting their lives on the line.”
Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, one of only two that opposed the measure in the House, said that it can go both ways, and she was concerned that it might unintentionally make things more difficult for veterans.
“As a matter of fact, I had a vet come up to me right after that vote and say, ‘Thank you so much for voting no for that, because I’d hate to have to prove to everybody in the world that I was a member of the armed forces,’” Butt said. “So you can look at that both ways, and I thought that was just a slippery vote right there.”
However, individuals won’t to come to the attention of law enforcement unless they are turned in, and the burden of proof would rest on the accusers, according to Dunn.
Rep. Mike Kernell, D-Memphis, the other opposing vote, said that he thought the bill went further than necessary.
“If you lie to commit fraud and harm someone, that’s one thing,” Kernell said. “What if we had a bill that simply said it’s a misdemeanor to lie? I don’t think the courts would uphold that, so I think the bill needs to be written differently.”
Next, the bill heads to the governor’s desk for his approval.