Florida bill to block monument removals makes lawmakers squeamish. this is the reason

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A proposal that would prevent the removal of state historical monuments, such as Confederate statues, is making its way through the Florida House and Senate.

Senate Bill 1122 would penalize local governments that attempt to remove historical monuments on public property, and give anyone the right to file a lawsuit if a monument is removed. A similar bill, House Bill 395, is moving through Tallahassee as well.

On Tuesday, the Senate Community Affairs Committee voted favorably on SB 1122, but not without disagreement.

Many of those who spoke in opposition to the legislation at Tuesday’s meeting viewed the bill as a tactic to prevent the removal of Confederate monuments and also opposed the fact that the bill would take power away from local governments. Those who spoke in favor of the bill said they view it as a way to protect history — and one commenter specifically said he supports the bill because he sees it as a way to protect “the white community.”

Here’s what to know about the legislation and what’s to come.

What’s in the Senate bill?

SB 1122The Historic Monuments and Monuments Protection Act would prevent any local government from removing a “Florida historic monument or memorial,” and would be retroactive to July 1, 2018.

The bill defines any “permanent statue, marker, plaque, flag, banner, monument, religious symbol, plaque, seal, tombstone, or display” that has been on public property for 25 years as Least and depicts an event or person far removed from the state’s history as a “Florida Historical Monument or Monument.”

The legislation effectively only gives the state the right to make decisions about removing historical monuments. It states that the Historic Resources Division of the State Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs will oversee these decisions.

Any local government that attempts to pass an ordinance or rule seeking to remove a historic monument will have a permanent injunction issued against it by the court and the ordinance or rule will be deemed invalid. A local official who votes in favor of a rule or ordinance to remove a historic monument could be subject to a fine of up to $1,000.

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The bill also gives people grounds to sue a local government or local official over removing or attempting to remove a historic monument.

Any local government that removes a monument will have 3 years to restore it from the original removal date. If the municipality cannot afford to replace it, the state government will cover the costs of restoring the monument and will withhold state funding for the arts and cultural and historical preservation from that local government until it repays the state.

What’s in the House bill?

House bill Similar but does not include any language about being retroactive and does not apply to any removals made in the past.

Controversy over Confederate monuments

SB 1122’s sponsor, Sen. Jonathan Martin, R-Fort Myers, said at Tuesday’s meeting that if the Legislature doesn’t act now, “we will lose American monuments.”

Martin said he was inspired to draft the bill after seeing monuments being removed across the country in 2020 and 2021. At the time, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests, citizens across the US called for statues to be erected. For the Confederacy, the leaders must be overthrown, as many consider them a symbol of slavery and white supremacy.

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Commenters who spoke in opposition to the bill raised concerns about Confederate monuments in the state and said the bill’s true intent was to protect those monuments from demolition.

One of the men, Wells Todd, said local governments should have the right to be able to remove monuments like Confederate monuments because they “honor the Confederate States of America, not the United States of America.”

They are set during a time of racial segregation, known as Jim Crow. “They were put in place to tell black people to stay put or we might come to your house and drag you out and lynch you,” Todd said.

Supporters of the bill said they wanted to preserve and protect American history, but some comments spoke to the concerns of opponents of the bill.

A man who said he was from Live Oak said the bill was a way to protect the “white community” and went on to say it advocated white supremacy.

Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said the comments coming out of the meeting were “vile” and “bigoted,” which she said almost made her want to vote against the legislation.

“It sounds like I’m endorsing your hatred, and I’m not,” said Bradley, who went on to vote in favor of the bill.

The committee chair, Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, said the commentator’s statement about white supremacy was “horrible” and “despicable” and said she believed the majority of the bill’s supporters did not share his beliefs. She voted in favor of the legislation.

Sen. Rosalind Osgood, D-Fort Lauderdale, the committee’s only Black member, said she was deeply affected by the comments made and considered them “un-American.” She and other Democrats on the committee withdrew to vote on the bill.

Where do things stand?

The future of the legislation appears uncertain after Senate President Kathleen Pasdomo, R-Naples, addressed comments made at Tuesday’s meeting, which she called “abhorrent behavior.”

“There are problems with the bill. What’s more, there are perception problems among our congregations, on all sides. So, I will take that into consideration. I’m not going to put forward a bill that’s so distasteful to everyone,” Pasdomo said.

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