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East TN senator invokes Hitler during debate on bill criminalizing homelessness

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (WATE) – A Republican lawmaker from East Tennessee made world news this week when he cited Adolf Hitler as an example of someone who escaped homelessness during a debate on a bill that would increase penalties for people camping on public property.

The Tennessee Senate voted Wednesday to advance a bill that would create a Class C misdemeanor for soliciting or camping along freeways or exit ramps and expand penalties for unauthorized camping on state property to all public property, a Class E felony punishable by up to six years in prison.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Paul Bailey, said it would be up to local authorities to enforce the law.

Frank Niceley, a Republican senator from Strawberry Plains who represents Claiborne, Grainger, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson and Union counties, voiced support for the bill on April 13, saying homeless people can still change their fortunes and lead a productive life. He underscored his claim by reminding fellow lawmakers that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was also once homeless.

“I want to give you a little history lesson on homelessness. In 1910, Hitler decided to live on the streets for a while. So, for two years, Hitler lived on the streets and practiced his oratorical language and bodily and how to connect with the masses, and then led a life that made it into the history books. So for a lot of these people, it’s not a dead end. They can get away with it. These homeless camps and have a productive life…or in Hitler’s case a very unproductive life.I support this bill.”

State Senator Frank Niceley

A request to WATE 6 On Your Side’s Niceley for additional comment was not returned.

Opponents of the bill have argued that the bill does not address the causes of homelessness and could make it harder for homeless people to find work if they have a felony conviction on their record. The bill passed both the Tennessee House and the Senate; he will then go to Governor Bill Lee’s office.

Hitler, the leader of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party or Nazi Party which started World War II with the invasion of Poland in September 1939 and led the genocide of millions of Jews, lived in a hostel for the shelter in Vienna from 1910 to 1913.

The comments have since been covered by major news outlets across America and in the UK. A snippet of the comments shared by Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) on Twitter has been viewed nearly 2 million times.

Niceley was first elected to Tennessee House in 1988 and re-elected in 1990. He was elected to serve in the 104th General Assembly in 2004 before subsequent re-elections in 2006 and 2008. He has served in the Tennessee Senate since 2010.


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