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Tennessee state senator Frank Niceley cites Adolf Hitler as example of how homeless people can turn lives around

Tennessee senator tells homeless to look at Hitler for inspiration
Tennessee state senator tells homeless people to look at Adolf Hitler for inspiration 00:38

A Republican state senator from Tennessee invoked Adolf Hitler in a message to homeless people on Wednesday, as he debated a bill that would threaten felony penalties against those who camp on public property.

During his speech, Frank Niceley offered his Senate colleagues a "history lesson" and brought up Hitler as an example of a former homeless person who turned his life around. 

"In 1910, Hitler decided to live on the streets for a while," he said. "So for two years, Hitler lived on the streets and practiced his oratory and his body language and how to connect with the masses, and then went on to lead a life that's got him into history books." 

Niceley said it's not a "dead end" for people in Tennessee who are homeless. 

"They can come out of this, these homeless camps and have a productive life, or in Hitler's case, a very unproductive life," he added.

CBS News reached out to Niceley's office for further clarification of his comments via email and phone, but did not immediately hear back. His comments drew criticism for mentioning the Nazi leader who led the widespread killings of Jews across Europe. 

Tennessee state representative Gloria Johnson, a Democrat, tweeted a video of his comments and that she's going to "have to apologize to the universe for this guy." 

It's not the first time Niceley has made controversial remarks in a public setting. Last year, during a speech, he said the Civil War was still going on and "we're winning." 

The bill he was debating about passed in the Tennessee Senate on Wednesday. The state's House already passed a version of the legislation last year. Both Republican-dominated chambers need to hash out differences in what they approved before being signed into law. 

The legislation threatens felony penalties against homeless people who camp on local public property — including in parks — and misdemeanors for camping around highways. The felony is punishable by up to six years in prison. Felony convictions in Tennessee result in the revocation of an individual's right to vote.

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