Lee’s signing of the bill comes just one week after the GOP-controlled General Assembly first passed the legislation. At the time, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the Senate Randy McNally, a Republican, touted the bill as a preventative measure against the forming of autonomous zones like the ones in other major cities.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican House Majority Leader William Lamberth, said at the same news conference that the bill was to crack down on “criminal elements” and protect law enforcement officers.
“And then specifically on the criminal justice reform bill that cracks down on criminal elements out there that are unfortunately are making it very difficult for folks to even visit this capitol,” Lamberth said.
“Anytime a law enforcement officer is assaulted I would agree that really is an assault on the state of Tennessee and all of our people, because that officer is really out there to protect and serve us. From whenever these bills are signed by the governor or go into law … every officer can be certain they will be protected more than they are right now,” Lamberth said.
The Tennessee chapter of the ACLU denounced Lee’s signing of the bill as a “chill on free speech.”
“While the governor often speaks about sentencing reform, this bill contradicts those words and wastes valuable taxpayer funds to severely criminalize dissent,” Hedy Weinberg, executive director of ACLU of Tennessee, said in a statement to CNN.
“This law also robs individuals of their right to vote if they are convicted of these new felony charges. We will be closely monitoring enforcement of this law and are urging Tennesseans to get out and vote like their rights depend on it,” Weinberg said.