NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN/WJHL) — The Tennessee Senate 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.”
Democratic lawmakers are calling it a loophole for slavery that should be closed. “It’s time that we removed an exception that allows those who are incarcerated to be enslaved,” said Memphis Democrat Sen. Raumesh Akbari.
While the bill has support from both parties, four Republican senators voted against the measure including Sen. Brian Kelsey, who was not interested in answering questions on why he voted against the bill.
Kelsey saying he explained his vote on the Senate floor.
However, Republican Senator Joey Hensley stood by his vote against the bill.
“I didn’t think it was necessary because the constitution already says slavery will be forever prohibited,” Hensley said.
Akbari who sponsored the joint resolution responded: “As for as those who say it’s not necessary it is our constitution is a moral document, it should reflect the values of Tennessee and the values of Tennessee should say that slavery and indentured servitude is forever prohibited.”
If approved by the House, the fate of the proposed amendment would be decided by Tennessee voters in the November 2022 election.