State Rep. Bud Hulsey, a Kingsport Republican who’s carrying the legislation in the House of Representatives, said he withdrew the bill on Wednesday morning to send it back the legislature’s staff attorneys for a rewrite.
He plans to rework the proposed legislation and resubmit it before the bill deadline on Feb. 5 in the hopes of getting the law approved by the end of the current legislative session.
State Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, is sponsoring the legislation in the Senate. Hulsey said Lundberg will also temporarily withdraw the bill from the senate.
Hulsey, a retired police lieutenant, said the bill has been on his radar for a few years and law enforcement officials asked him to pursue the legislation in the General Assembly. The bill would give officers an additional tool, Hulsey said, to prevent crimes like vandalism or assault during protests and demonstrations by people who are hiding their identity.
“If they have somebody in a demonstration or a protest who completely masks his identity and has an intent to commit crime because of it, it gives them an edge to go do something about it,” Hulsey said.
Lundberg said the original bill caused “great confusion,” which he said stemmed from concern that bill would limit what people could wear in a public setting. He said that’s not the aim of the bill.
Hulsey said he hopes to narrowly tailor the scope of the legislation. Referencing concerns from individuals that the bill would prevent people from wearing articles of clothing like hoodies, Hulsey said it’s not his intention to dictate what people can wear.
“It has nothing to do with somebody walking down the street with their face completely covered up because it’s 5 degrees above zero,” he said.
The legislation, according to a bill summary online, was initially filed for introduction in the Tennessee House of Representatives on Jan. 14 and in the Senate on Jan. 21.
A summary posted on the Tennessee General Assembly website says the bill would make it a Class A misdemeanor offense to wear a mask, a hood or any other “device” that intentionally conceals the wearer’s identity in a public way, public property or private property without the permission of the property owner or the occupier of the property.
The summary says the bill would not prevent people from wearing a traditional holiday costume on a holiday, a mask or hood while engaged in a theatrical production, parade or masquerade ball, a gas mask prescribed in an emergency management drill or engaging in an occupation or sporting activity where a mask or hood is used to ensure the physical safety of the wearer and others.
“To me, it’s a very reasonable, sensible bill to help law enforcement deal with what we’re starting to deal with now,” Hulsey said.