Remembering Rosa Parks, and some who would rather not

Last week, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the "Rosa Parks Act", which "expunges public records of persons charged with a misdemeanor or felony while challenging a law designed to maintain racial segregation or discrimination."

In other words, the bill grants blanket pardon and expunges all records for civil rights pioneers who stood up (or in the case of Rosa Parks sat down) for their rights and were charged or convicted of a crime.

Alabama passed a similar law last year. The bill made Rosa Parks eligible for a pardon, and the bill's sponsor said he would contact her estate to see if they want to apply.

Laws in both states allow for preservation of historical records on exhibit at museums, and Tennessee's law allows for a petitioner to receive a pardon but have their records preserved for historical purposes.

Florida legislators proposed a similar bill this year, but it died in committee. Sponsors say they will reintroduce the Florida bill next year.

Along the way, the Tennessee bill was amended to exclude serious felonies (at least the way I read it) and include a requirement that the arrest and conviction had to occur more than 37 years ago and that no other convictions have occurred since. The bill passed unanimously in the Tennessee Senate, and by 88 to 6 in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

Yes, that's right. Six Tennessee State Representatives voted against it. They were: Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland; Rep. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville; Rep. Chris Crider, R-Milan, Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville; Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald; and Rep. Donna Rowland, R-Murfreesboro.

You may recall that Rep. Stacey Campfield had previously gained national attention twice, once for complaining about not being allowed to join the Black Caucus (Campfield is white), and again for introducing legislation that would require the state to issue death certificates for every abortion (so, if I recall correctly, we could know who is having abortions because death certificates are public record unlike medical records).

A columnist for the Nashville Tennessean contacted some of the six to ask why they voted against the bill. Reps. Hensley, Dunn, and Campfield expressed concerns about pardoning convicted felons, with Hensley saying "I hated to arbitrarily expunge all felonies." Apparently he didn't read the final version of the bill. Campfield also expressed concerns about pardoning members of violent organizations such as the Black Panthers.

Anyway, this legislation is a fitting tribute to those who put their life and liberty on the line for the civil rights movement. Hopefully we will see the spread of more Rosa Parks Acts around the South.