TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — A new bill aimed at protecting historical monuments and memorials is moving fast through the Florida legislature, though critics worry it will be used to commemorate Confederate sites.
“There’s not a monument in the country that depicts a perfect person – except maybe one in a Catholic Church somewhere,” the bill’s sponsor Sen. Jonathan Martin (R-Fort Myers) addressed the controversy. “I don’t come from a religion that likes to memorialize or create idols.”
SB 1096 strictly prohibits damage or removal of any memorial that highlights Florida’s history, military ventures or influential figures. Following a sign-off from Secretary of State Cord Byrd, violators are liable to pay three times the cost to return, repair or replace the monument.
COMPARED TO THE TALIBAN
The legislation sparked debate in the Committee on Governmental Oversight, with Sen. Rosalind Osgood (D-Broward) pointing out the lack of black representation in Confederate memorials.
“People who look like me really are offended by the Confederate monuments we see because we don’t see the Confederate monuments of the people of color who also fought in the Civil War,” she stated.
Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), who is a descendant of a Confederate soldier, disagreed vehemently with the Democrat senator. He stated that the removal of Confederate monuments and memorials “are the kinds of things we witnessed the Taliban do.”
THE MOVE TO REMOVE
The nationwide move toward removal followed the 2015 shooting at a black church in South Carolina. Two weeks later, a woman was arrested for removing the Confederate flag outside the Capitol, though legislators eventually voted to remove the flag.
The anti-Confederate movement picked up steam after the 2017 white nationalist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, and even more so following George Floyd’s death in 2020, which resulted in the removal of over 90 Confederate memorials nationwide.
Since 2015, 30 Confederate memorials in Florida have been removed or renamed, leaving 75 still standing as of 2022.
“EVERYBODY HAS THE OPPORTUNITY TO SEE WHO WE ARE”
Despite criticism, Martin held firm in his belief that these monuments will “help those who are coming up behind us to learn about the direction that we’re moving as a country.”
“What I like about these memorials in public places is that everybody has the opportunity to see who we were.” He concluded.
SB 1096 has one more committee stop before it can advance to the Senate floor. Its House companion bill, HB 1607, has two more committee stops. If the legislation passes in identical formation, it will move to the governor for his signature.