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TN State Parks Offers Free Night of Camping, Complimentary 18 Holes of Golf for TN Veterans

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation; November 5, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – Tennessee State Parks announced today its annual free state parks day for all Tennessee veterans on Monday, Nov. 12, offering one free night of camping and complimentary greens fees for 18 holes of golf with appropriate identification.

Passed by the General Assembly in 2010, the policy calls for a yearly, special state parks day to honor Tennessee’s resident veterans.

“This is our way of honoring the many brave men and women who have served our country,” said Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau. “The state parks family extends a warm invitation to all of Tennessee’s veterans to visit us on Nov. 12 and enjoy a day in one of our beautiful parks.”

The free day on Nov. 12 is in addition to Tennessee State Parks’ current veterans’ policy, which includes a camping discount within the state parks system and is available annually beginning November 1 through March 31, offering a 15 to 25 percent reduction off the standard nightly base rates (depending on the type of site chosen). This camping discount is available to Tennessee residents showing proof of prior military duty.

A special state park discount also is in place for active duty military personnel and members of the Tennessee National Guard. This year-round discount is given to all U.S. military – regardless of their branch of service or where they are stationed. Disabled veterans also are eligible for the Tennessee State Parks year-round ADA discount that provides a 25 to 50 percent discount for campsites. For more information about Tennessee State Parks’ veterans and military discounts, please visit www.tnstateparks.com/FAQs.shtml#military.

To receive the free state parks day benefits and extended discounts, veterans need to provide proof of residency with a Tennessee driver’s license; and proof of veteran’s status, with a Certificate of Discharge (DD214) or Veterans Administration benefit card.

Tennessee’s 54 state parks and 82 natural areas span the state from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River and offer an array of diverse natural, recreational and cultural experiences, including hiking, camping, boating and golfing. Celebrating its 75th Anniversary this year, the Tennessee State Parks system was established through legislation in 1937. Today, there is a state park within an hour’s drive of just about anywhere in the state, with features such as pristine natural areas and a variety of lodging and dining choices. For more information, visit Tennessee State Parks’ website at www.tnstateparks.com

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Occupy Nashville’s Tent City Has 1 Week to Clear Out

It’s official: It is now illegal to pitch tents outside the Capitol Building or any other state-owned property not explicitly permitting camping.

Department of General Services says it will give Occupy Nashville protesters a week to clear off War Memorial Plaza, a marble topped public square the demonstrators have called home since the fall.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed the legislative measure into law Friday, giving the state authority to begin enforcing the law today. However, Haslam has said he’s not interested in playing a game of “gotcha” with protesters and wants to give them a heads up before he puts the statute into play.

He told the Tennessean Wednesday he was still consulting with the Attorney General about whether the state should exercise the new law or first finish up changes to rules governing use of War Memorial Plaza.

He told reporters two weeks ago he planned on signing the bill into law but added it would be a matter of “months, not weeks” before the new rules would be finished, and he was unsure whether his administration would wrap that process up first before evicting protesters. That hearing is scheduled for April 16.

“We’re following the rule making process. We’ll have to talk with the attorney general and others to decide, once you pass the law, what does that give the state the authority to do,” he told reporters then.

Protesters can still demonstrate over night under the law, but tents and any other bedding must be removed by Friday, March 9. Punishment is a Class A misdemeanor criminal offense punishable with up to 364 days in prison and a $2,500 fine.

State Gives 7-Day Warning Against Illegal Camping

Press release from the Department of General Services; March 2, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of General Services Commissioner Steve Cates today announced that notices are being posted statewide to inform the public about a new law that prohibits camping on state-owned property, except for areas specifically designated by the appropriate department or agency, such as the Department of Environment and Conservation that oversees state parks.

“These notices are designed to inform citizens and visitors to our state about the new law and its impact on state-owned facilities across Tennessee,” Cates said.  “Although the legislation calls for an immediate prohibition of unauthorized camping on state property, we believe a seven day notification period, beginning today, is an appropriate time frame to make sure the word gets out.  After that time, the state will be prepared to enforce the statute.”

The law, HB2638/SB2508 sponsored by Rep. Eric Watson (R-Cleveland) and Sen. Delores Gresham (R-Somerville), makes unauthorized camping on state-owned property a Class A misdemeanor criminal offense, which calls for the maximum sentence of 11 months and 29 days in jail and/or a maximum fine of $2,500.  It also subjects items associated with illegal camping to seizure and forfeiture.

The General Assembly approved the measure by a vote of 67 to 21 in the House of Representatives and 21 to 9 in the Senate.  The governor signed the bill into law today.

Occupy Nashville Eviction Bill Gets Final Legislative Approval

Tennessee legislators tired of seeing tents camped outside their windows gave final approval to a bill Monday making it a crime to erect shelters or lay bedding on state property not sanctioned for camping.

The legislation is targeted at Occupy Nashville protesters who have made the marble roof of downtown’s Legislative Plaza their home since the fall, but the pending new law is prone to unintended consequences, according to Rep. Frank Niceley, a Strawberry Plains Republican.

“I was fine with moving the protesters off of the plaza. I thought that needs to be done. But the way they wrote the bill, it would affect anyone,” he told TNReport. “If you’re out in the country, and the state owns hundreds of thousands of acres of state land, and you accidentally camp on one, well, some overzealous deputy could get you in trouble.”

Niceley opted not to cast a vote on the measure which passed both chambers easily with Republican and some Democratic support. But he said he wants to see legislation next year narrowing the language to protect people who simply need a place to camp.

“I’ve done a lot of camping in my life, under bridges and on the roadsides. You have the European college students come over here, and they trek across the country on their walkabout, and I thought it just was too broad,” he added.

HB2638, which heads to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk, would ban anyone from camping, including “laying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping,” on government-owned property not designated for camping, punishable with a fine up to $2,500 and up to 364 days jail time.

Haslam has said he will likely OK the bill but won’t pull the trigger on evicting Occupy Nashville protesters until after his administration finishes a new rule-making process dictating how War Memorial Plaza is used. That task may wrap up after lawmakers have gone home for the year, he said.

Administration officials will meet April 16 on Capitol Hill to publicly review potential rules governing how War Memorial Plaza is used.

Occupy Bill Occupies Legislators

A bill to make camping on public property illegal passed both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees Tuesday, over the protest of members of the Occupy Nashville group.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who has been an outspoken critic of the protesters’ encampment, says the issue is one of safety, not squelching of First Amendment rights.

“I support our constitution and embrace with open arms our rights of free speech and assembly,” Ramsey wrote in a statement posted to his Facebook page after the measure passed overwhelmingly through committees in both chambers. “Liberal judges here in Nashville and on the federal bench can try and twist the law however they want but the reality is clear: this occupation has gone beyond speech and assembly and become an embarrassment — both to causes Occupy purports to support and the state of Tennessee at large.”

House Bill 2638 passed the House committee, 14-2, with the only dissenting members being Reps. Karen Camper, D-Memphis, and Mike Stewart, D-Nashville.

It also passed in the Senate committee, 7-1, with one legislator, Memphis Democrat Ophelia Ford, abstaining from the vote.

In the Senate hearing, Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, expressed concern over the wording of the bill, and that it might be interpreted to prevent protesting in general. Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, voted against the bill.

The bills now go to scheduling committees before being heard on both chamber floors of the General Assembly.

The bills were each amended to make a violation a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum punishment of a a $2,500 fine and nearly a year imprisonment. It would have previously been a Class B offense.

“I think this bill is very redundant, because the acts that they’re pointing to are already illegal,” said Megan Riggs, member of Occupy Nashville.  “They do have the power to patrol the plaza and make sure it’s safe, not just for who they’re concerned about, the people that work here, but also the protesters on the plaza, the people that they’ve been elected to protect.”

The bill is being opposed by Occupy Nashville on the grounds that it negatively affects their constitutional right to protest and that it would criminalize being homeless.

But Judiciary Committee Chairman Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, the bill’s House sponsor, disagrees.

“It’s totally different,” Watson said. “They’re the ones bringing up that issue. They’re saying the that homeless are going to be arrested. Well, they can be arrested now, and that’s something they need to do the research on.”

Watson said homeless people could be arrested for violating local loitering laws.

Watson said that while he supports the Occupy Nashville members’ right to protest, he doesn’t perceive their activities to be a protest. He said he hadn’t seen signs or placards recently, for example. He was also upset that some members had been arrested for drug use and theft, and that a protester had urinated on a Capitol staffer.

“One of the employees that works at the plaza here was peed on,” Watson said. “You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, and if you approve of that – if you think that’s peaceable assembly – you need to be peed on, see how you like it.”

There were a couple dozen Occupy Nashville members present at the hearings, with a few members speaking to the committee.

“When we the people said we want money out of politics, the U.S. Supreme Court said money was free speech,” said Michael Custer, an Occupy Nashville representative. “Well, if money is free speech, then surely a 24-hour vigil, seven days a week, through the rain and cold of our Tennessee winters must also count as free speech.”

Corporations have money to buy advertising on television and billboards so that their voices are heard, but the Occupy movement doesn’t have the money to buy advertising for their voices, Custer said.

“Those tents, they are our billboard,” Custer said.

This sentiment is shared by several other Occupy members.

“If money, in our country, constitutes free speech, then so does protecting yourself from the elements,” said Lindsey Krinks, a member of Occupy Nashville, “So does being out on a 24-hour vigil and keeping yourself dry and being able to sleep and maintain acts of daily living.”

There was some brief discussion between Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, and Reps. Stewart and Camper in the House committee.

Dennis backed the bill, saying that it was the responsibility of elected officials to determine the best use for public property, and to protect it for use by all.

Stewart claimed that the bill was an attempt to take a peaceful protest and turn it into a crime, while Camper identified the Occupy movement with sit-ins from the civil rights movement of the ‘60s.

The Occupy Nashville group has been camped in Legislative Plaza since the beginning of October of last year in protest of the corrupting influence of corporate money on politics. Since then, a federal court judge issued an injunction barring the state from removing the protesters.

The Haslam administration attempted to remove the protesters from the plaza in October. A federal judge halted the arrests.