- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Amid efforts across the South to remove public symbols of the Confederacy, members of the North Carolina General Assembly moved a step closer Wednesday to passing legislation that would protect Confederate monuments.

In April, the Senate passed a bill banning the removal of “objects of remembrance” from public property. The action came nearly two months before the deadly shootings at a historic African-American church in South Carolina that sparked a wave of negative sentiment against Confederate relics. In one of the most high-profile cases, the South Carolina legislature voted last week to remove a Confederate Flag flying on the grounds of the State House.

In a meeting of a North Carolina House committee Wednesday, however, Republicans defended the legislation to protect historic monuments, rebuffing arguments from Democrats who said the bill was protecting images deemed offensive by many North Carolinians, especially minorities. The committee voted to approve the bill and send it to the full House.

The bill would bar state or local authorities from permanently removing an object on public land that “commemorates an event, person or military service that is part of North Carolina’s history.” Removing such an object would require an act by the General Assembly to be approved by the governor.

At times, the debate seemed to move delicately, and tensely, around the recent spotlight on Confederate monuments that are displayed in many parks and public buildings around the South.

“There are some monuments around the state that really relate to a bad experience,” said Rep. Marvin Lucas, D-Cumberland, calling such monuments “abhorrent.”

Republicans on the committee said historical monuments, even ones that evoke negative feelings, deserve to be preserved. One Republican cited the decision to keep German Concentration Camps open after WWII as memorials and reminders of the Holocaust. Another said attempts to remove historical symbols evoke George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dan Soucek, R-Watuaga, pointed out that the bill was proposed before last month’s shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, and said monuments should be protected from “knee-jerk reactions.”

Lucas responded by saying he too has been concerned about the presence of Confederate monuments in the state since before the shootings.

“This has been something that’s been on my radar for quite some time,” Lucas said.

After the committee passed the bill, House Democratic Leader Larry Hall objected to a motion to bring the bill to the floor for a debate on Wednesday. Lawmakers plan to take it up again early next week.

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