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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Confederate, other monument removal ban passes first committee

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

Local officials could be booted from office if they take action to remove historical monuments in their communities, including those with Confederate ties.

Local officials could be booted from office if they take action to remove historical monuments in their communities, including Confederate ones.

Under SB 1122, local officials who vote to remove any historical monument, including confederate monuments, could be sued for the cost to replace them and suspended from office by the Governor. The bill allows local governments to request from the state that a plaque or other marker be placed next to the monument to explain more details about its historical context.

Fort Myers Republican Senator Jonathan Martin, the bill’s sponsor, said in committee Monday he created the bill not to protect confederate monuments, but all monuments. He said he wants to protect the erasure of history from the public square, even the aspects which may be painful or uncomfortable.

“If there was good from that statue or there was bad, either of those are things we can learn from as a society to make us stronger and to unite us,” he said.

Just last month, Jacksonville’s mayor removed a confederate monument, one of dozens around the state that have been removed within the last decade in response to racially motivated mass shootings and police-involved killings. However, the Jacksonville monument and others would have to go back up under the bill, because it also requires monuments removed since 2020 to be replaced.

Democratic Senator Tracie Davis opposed the bill, arguing that Confederate monuments are meant as a symbol of white supremacy.

“These were meant to degrade black people, black residents all through Duval county. And to show them in bronze and iron that they were lesser,” she said.

The bill is part of growing backlash to the movement to remove the monuments. During public comment, Jacksonville native Seber Newsom III said he views the monument removals as an attack on history from a “woke left mob.”

“Historical monuments and memorials are being removed at an alarming rate. Woke Left mobs go into cities and make threats. Weak Republicans and Democrats get scared and destroy works of art. All people need to learn from history and not destroy it,” he said.

John Weber of the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund argued against the bill, positing that actions to remove monuments them isn’t destroying history, but taking into account what the monuments actually symbolize.

“At their core, these monuments glorify people who decided to take up arms against the United States in a treasonous attempt to maintain white supremacy and slavery,” he said.

The bill passed its first senate committee hearing along party lines, while a House companion has yet to move.

Tristan Wood is a senior producer and host with WFSU Public Media. A South Florida native and University of Florida graduate, he focuses on state government in the Sunshine State and local panhandle political happenings.