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What to know about a Florida bill to block monument removals

The bill’s future is uncertain.
 
The bronze statue of a woman reading to two children is slid off its base as it is removed from the "Women of the Southland" monument in Jacksonville's Springfield Park on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. Serious discussion of the monument's fate began in 2020 after the former mayor ordered the removal of another monument, a bronze statue of a Confederate soldier that had been in a downtown park for more than 100 years.
The bronze statue of a woman reading to two children is slid off its base as it is removed from the "Women of the Southland" monument in Jacksonville's Springfield Park on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. Serious discussion of the monument's fate began in 2020 after the former mayor ordered the removal of another monument, a bronze statue of a Confederate soldier that had been in a downtown park for more than 100 years. [ BOB SELF | AP ]
Published Feb. 12

A proposal that would prevent the removal of historic state monuments, like Confederate statues, has been making its way through the Florida House and Senate.

Senate Bill 1122 would punish local governments that try to take down historic monuments located on public property and would give someone the right to sue if one 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 contention. Many of those who spoke in opposition of 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 viewed it as a way to protect history — one commenter specifically said he was in favor of the bill as he saw it as a way to protect “white society.”

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

What’s in the Senate bill?

SB 1122, the Historical Monuments and Memorials Protection Act, would prohibit any local government from removing a “historic Florida monument or memorial,” and it would be retroactive to July 1, 2018.

The bill defines any “permanent statue, marker, plaque, flag, banner, cenotaph, religious symbol, painting, seal, tombstone, or display” that’s been on public property for at least 25 years and depicts an event or person part of state history as a “historic Florida monument or memorial.”

The legislation effectively gives only the state the right to make decisions about the removal of historic monuments. It states that the Division of Historical Resources within the Department of State and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs will oversee these decisions.

Any local government that tries to pass an ordinance or rule that aims 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 subjected to a fine up to $1,000.

The bill also gives people the grounds to sue a local government or local official over the removal or attempted removal of a historic monument.

Any local government that removes a monument will have 3 years to restore it from its original removal date. If a municipality can’t afford to replace it, the state government will cover the costs to restore the monument and will withhold state funding for the arts, cultural and historic preservation from that local government until it pays the state back.

What’s in the House bill?

The House bill is similar but does not include any language about it being retroactive and would not apply to any removals made in the past.

Controversy over Confederate monuments

The sponsor of SB 1122, Sen. Jonathan Martin, R-Fort Myers, said in Tuesday’s meeting that if the Legislature doesn’t act now, “we are going to lose American monuments.”

Martin said he was inspired to draft the bill after seeing monuments removed around the country in 2020 and 2021. At that time, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests, citizens across the United States called for statues of Confederate leaders to be taken down, as many see them as a symbol of slavery and white supremacy.

People who spoke out in opposition to the bill brought up concerns around Confederate monuments in the state and said that the bill’s true intent is to protect those monuments from being torn down.

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

“They were put up at a time of segregation, better known as Jim Crow. And they were put up to tell Black people to stay in your place or we might come to your house, drag you out and lynch you,” said Todd.

Those in favor of the bill said they wanted to preserve and protect all American history, but some comments spoke to the fears of those in opposition of the bill.

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

Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said that the comments from the meeting were “vile” and “bigoted” and said they almost made her want to vote against the legislation.

“It looks like I endorse your hatred, and I do not,” said Bradley, who went on to vote in favor of the bill.

The chairperson of the committee, Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, said that the commentator’s statement about white supremacy was “atrocious” and “despicable” and said she believes that the majority of those in favor of the bill do not share his beliefs. She voted in favor of the legislation.

Sen. Rosalind Osgood, D-Fort Lauderdale, who is the only Black member of the committee, said she was hurt by the comments made and considered them to be “non-American.” She and other Democrats on the committee walked out for the vote on the bill.

Where do things stand?

The future of the legislation appears to be uncertain after Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, addressed the comments that were made in Tuesday’s meeting, which she called “abhorrent behavior.”

“There are problems with the bill. More than that, there are problems in perceptions among our caucus, on all sides. So, I’m going to take that into consideration. I’m not going to bring a bill to the floor that is so abhorrent to everybody,” said Passidomo.