BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - As New Orleans prepares to remove several Confederate monuments from prominent city locations, Louisiana lawmakers advanced a proposal to halt future efforts statewide.
Louisiana House lawmakers moved forward with a bill by Rep. Thomas Carmody, a Shreveport Republican, to ban the removal of any plaque, statue or other monument - on public property - commemorating a historic military figure or event. The ban could only be overturned if local voters were to agree to a statue’s removal in an election.
A House committee voted 10-8 Wednesday to forward the measure to the full House. The vote largely fell along partisan lines, with most Republicans supporting it and most Democrats opposing.
Prior to the vote, about two dozen people - including veterans, two state senators and a history teacher - spoke in favor of the bill, with many warning lawmakers that a rising tide of political correctness needed to be stopped.
“I believe it’s probably too late to do anything about what is happening to New Orleans right now, but (we need to close) the Pandora’s box that is being opened when you practice the politics of destruction and you start going after people, whether they be flesh and blood or whether they be made of stone,” said Maj. Bradley Hayes of the Sons of the American Revolution organization.
Opponents said the monuments belong in museums and other educational settings, not public squares and intersections - and they resisted suggestions that the statues and other markers honor the nation’s veterans.
“If we are going to live under the United States flag, we ought to celebrate those who fought for the United States,” said Rodney Braxton, a lobbyist for the city of New Orleans. “We’re not trying to destroy these monuments. We’re not trying to put them away and hide them.”
Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, a Baton Rouge Democrat, said the proposal “has nothing to do with protecting veterans.” A former city council member, Marcelle said she objects to usurping a local governing body’s authority to decide what to do with its public sites.
“I think this is a way to go around the local authorities to get what you want when you don’t get what you want from the local authorities. I believe that is a slippery slope,” she said.
Marcelle predicted the city of New Orleans would file a court challenge if the legislation wins final passage, and she said state government has too many budget problems to afford the litigation.
Democratic Rep. Patricia Smith of Baton Rouge bristled at one woman’s argument that opponents of the bill needed to “grow up.”
“At 71, I’ve grown up,” Smith said. “I’ve grown up in a cloud of racism.”
Nationally, the debate over Confederate symbols has flared since nine black parishioners were shot to death by an avowed racist at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. New Orleans officials in April removed a monument to a white-supremacist uprising and they intend to take down three statues of Confederate figures.
South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its statehouse grounds in 2015, and several Southern cities have since considered removing monuments. The University of Mississippi took down its state flag because it includes the Confederate emblem.
Carmody had put forward a bill last year to require a state commission to approve the removal of any monument, but that measure and a similar one by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, failed to advance out of their respective committees.
Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, and Virginia already have similar laws, according to the Monumental Task Committee, a New Orleans-based preservation organization. Lawmakers are considering similar legislation in Alabama, South Carolina, and Texas.
House Bill 71: www.legis.la.gov
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