NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Tennessee Senate has approved a measure to remove a section of the state constitution that allows slavery as a punishment for a crime.
All but four Republican Senators voted in favor of the proposed constitutional amendment on Monday.
Article I Section 33 of the state constitution states, “That slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, are forever prohibited in this state.”
The proposed amendment would replace that with, “Slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited. Nothing in this section shall prohibit an inmate from working when the inmate has been duly convicted of a crime.”
If approved by the House, the fate of the proposed amendment would be decided by Tennessee voters in the November 2022 election.
Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), one of the four who voted against the amendment, said the state constitution already prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude.
“I just think it’s ultimately fake history to be telling our voters next year that the 1870 constitution allowed slavery. It clearly did not,” Kelsey said. “And it was passed five years after Tennessee and the United States ratified the 13th Amendment forever prohibiting slavery.”
Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) also voted against the proposed amendment.
“The great constitutional lawyer John Jay Hooker told me one time that the constitution was written by non-lawyers to be read by non-lawyers,” Niceley said. “Now I’m a non-lawyer and most of my voters are non-lawyers, and I can’t explain this amendment in words they can understand. I don’t understand it, I can’t explain it, and the constitution is too sacred to clutter up with a lot of stuff that non-lawyers can’t explain to other non-lawyers, so I guess I’ll be voting ‘no’ on this.”
Sens. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) and Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) also voted against the measure.