Florida has state holidays for Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln. The calendar also designates holidays on the birthdays of Confederate icons Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee — decisions made more than a century ago.
They’re not paid holidays for state workers, but they’re on the books.
Calling Davis and Lee divisive symbols of slavery and racism, Democratic lawmakers filed bills to repeal both holidays. But it’s a lost cause in the House, where the proposal won’t even get a hearing.
Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, filed his bill (HB 277) in October. It got shelved in a House subcommittee that meets for the last time Thursday. Because the bill wasn’t on the agenda, it’s probably dead.
“This puts Robert E. Lee on the same playing field with Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln. It’s baffling,” Moskowitz said. “These people wanted to secede from the Union. You know what we would call them today? Traitors.”
The lawmaker who didn’t schedule the bill is Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, who chairs the Oversight, Transparency and Administration Subcommittee.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s office approves meeting times and agendas but said he was unfamiliar with the bill. Sullivan said she sets the panel’s agenda and that there were other similar bills that also didn’t get heard.
“We ran out of time,” Sullivan said before voicing opposition to the bill. “I would say it’s important to remember our past so that we don’t repeat it. I don’t think history, even perhaps the parts that I’m not so proud of, I don’t think we should try to remove its aspects.”
Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, a co-sponsor the repeal bill, disagreed. ”You have to draw a distinction between remembering history and celebrating it,” Geller said. He said a state holiday for Lee is no different than a Confederate flag or public monument.
The Senate version of the bill cleared a committee stop Tuesday on a 4-2 vote.
Moskowitz’s bill also would have wiped out a third designated holiday, Confederate Memorial Day, on April 26. Barring a dramatic shift by the Republican-controlled Legislature, that one will stay on the books, too.
The city of Hollywood, Fla., voted a few months ago to remove Lee’s name from a local street, a decision supporters said came after 15 years of fighting City Hall.