State GOP lawmakers are pushing forward a bill that prohibits the removal of monuments and memorials on public property, including by local governments.
Even as Florida’s GOP-majority government moves to steer colleges away from diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs, and Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to oppose teaching critical race theory (CRT) – the history of slavery in the US and the idea that racism is enmeshed in US society – Republican lawmakers are pushing forward legislation that would protect Confederate and other monuments and memorials.
On Wednesday, the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee approved Senate Bill 1096, the “Historical Monuments and Memorials Protection Act” that, among other actions, prevents the removal of monuments and memorials on public property, including by local governments. A similar measure, HB 1607, has been filed in the House.
RELATED: ‘We Cannot Allow These Threats Against Free Speech to Continue’: Professors Ask Judge to Block DeSantis’ Censorship Effort
“I think that history, good or bad, should be available for everybody,” said Sen. Jonathan Martin, R-Fort Myers, the bill’s sponsor.
A Marked Distinction
However, critics of the legislation see a distinction between preserving history and glorifying those who warred against the United States over the right to keep owning Black people.
For this reason, Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg asked if the government could relocate a monument to a museum because the item could bring “pain to a community.”
Sen. Martin replied that it could be allowed, but in a “very narrow situation.”
RELATED: ‘Terrifying’ and ‘Draconian’: DeSantis Bill to Reform College Education Could Destroy It
Senate Bill 1096 prevents, among other actions, the removal of monuments and memorials on public property, including by local governments. As written in the bill, signs, or plaques added to the memorial stating that the Confederacy sought to protect slavery would require approval of the secretary of state, Republican Cord Byrd. And if the monument or memorial needs to be relocated for a public construction project, it “must be relocated to a site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, and access.” The proposal could also allow people to file lawsuits if they believe they have “lost history,” or the ability to teach about the past, because of the removal or relocation of monuments.
According to a 2022 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, thirty monuments have been removed since 2015, with 75 Confederate memorials remaining in Florida.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office has not stated his position on the bill.
What the People Say
A 2022 survey of nearly 5,500 American adults designed by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) as part of a partnership with E Pluribus Unum (EPU), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to build a more equitable and inclusive South, showed that about 75% of all Americans agree that Confederate monuments should either be contextualized with historical information, moved to a museum, or destroyed.