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Florida lawmakers move to protect historical monuments and markers

Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee
Ken Kohn/K.L. Kohn
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Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee

Anyone who damages or removes an historical monument or memorial could face a civil lawsuit under legislation moving in the Florida House and Senate. It follows efforts in recent years to relocate monuments and markers tied to the Confederacy - especially slavery.

“Under this bill, could a local government who votes to remove a monument from public property be sued over that action?” asked Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach. Yes, if the monument is moved to a less prominent location that is less accessible to the public.

That’s important for cities like Jacksonville, where leaders have budgeted half a million dollars to remove confederate monuments.

The bills, SB 1096 and HB 1607, says groups and individual Florida residents can sue. Even out-of-state organizations that focus on historic preservation can sue.

“Thank y’all so much for finally pushing something to protect our monuments,” said Santa Rosa County Commissioner James Calkins to the Senate Community Affairs Committee. “We have a movement in this country to take down and destroy historic monuments. They started with Confederate monuments. It didn't end there. Christopher Columbus, George Washington's next.”

"I'm hoping that we'll get to a point where we can have some real tough conversations to understand why different groups feel different ways about certain things and not hate each other because we feel differently," said Sen. Rosalind Osgood, D-Ft. Lauderdale. She then explained why she was voting no.

“People that look like me really are offended by a lot of the Confederate monuments because we don't see the Confederate monuments of those people of color that were also in the Civil War," she said, "and the whole notion of the Lost Cause, which we believe was the start of erasing our history.”

“I'm aware of the fact that there are many monuments around the country that remind us of a history that I'd say almost everybody in this room isn't proud of,” said Sen. Jonathan Martin, R-Ft. Myers, who sponsors the bill. He says these memorials should be in public places so everyone has the opportunity to see who we were.

“We don't build monuments around the sins of individuals, we build them because of something great that they did," Martin said. "I want to teach my kids that despite your imperfections, you can still do something great.”

Under the bill, those who are sued may be liable for triple the amount of the cost to replace or repair the monument or marker.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. Follow Gina: @hearyourthought on Twitter. Click below for Gina's full bio.
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