- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Relocating, altering or otherwise disturbing a public military monument would become a felony offense under a bill adopted Wednesday by an Arkansas House committee.

Republican Rep. Joe Farrer of Austin said the measure is a proactive move to protect military heritage and prevent groups from removing religious imagery. He wasn’t aware of any problems with Arkansas memorials, but said people have stolen bronze from graveyards and that the bill could help prosecute those cases.

Statues, gravestones, plaques, schools, streets, parks and other public property that honor the military would be defined as a protected monument under Farrer’s bill. The proposal allows an exemption for the construction or maintenance of roadways.

The bill, advanced by the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committee in a voice vote, is headed to the full House.

Farrer said people who violate the law could be charged with a felony punishable by one year in prison or a $10,000 fine.

Democratic Rep. John Walker of Little Rock, a civil rights attorney, said memorials are products of the time in which they are created and that there should be flexibility to change them. For example, he said, black people find some things honored in Arkansas offensive, such as certain Civil War memorials.

Farrer maintained that memorials are appropriate, even if opinions change.

“We are today what we are today because of the Civil War one way or the other,” Farrer said.

Other lawmakers worried that the change would force municipalities to make costly repairs to crumbling monuments or prevent city infrastructure from expanding.

Farrer said he is considering amendments to let voters or local governments opt out of the law. He said “common sense” adjustments of monuments are fine but wants to block out-of-state secular groups.

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Follow Allen Reed on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/Allen_Reed

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