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Bill to punish homeless for sleeping in public spaces passes state House and Senate

The speakers of the Senate and House of Representatives signed the bill on April 20.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee lawmakers are close to sending Gov. Bill Lee a proposal that would threaten felony penalties against homeless people who camp on local public property, including in parks.

The Tennessee Senate voted 20-10 on April 13 to advance the bill, with four Republicans joining Democrats in opposition.

The House had already passed a version of the legislation, and both chambers needed to hash out differences in what they approved. That version was signed by the House and Senate speaklers on Wednesday, April 20. It still needs to be sent to Governor Bill Lee's desk for his signature.

The bill also introduces a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a $50 fine and community service for camping along highways, including under bridges or overpasses, or within an underpass.

Hundreds of people are homeless in the Knoxville area.

Some have set up camps on public property including in woods near greenways and under overpasses. Some also squat in empty buildings in the area.

Here's more on the Senate bill.

A recent study shows that 60% of the homeless in Knoxville and the surrounding county had issues affording their rent or mortgage. It's not clear how they'd pay fines under the legislation if they already lack money for housing.

The recent study conducted by the University of Tennessee College of Social Work Office of Research and Public Service shows that 31% of the homeless population could not find affordable housing for themselves or their families, 16% were evicted, and 10% lost their jobs.

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