Bill to block removal of Confederate monuments rejected

AP News
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Posted: Apr 06, 2016 6:36 PM

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A proposal aimed at protecting Louisiana's Confederate monuments failed Wednesday to win enough support to advance in the state Senate.

Republican Sen. Beth Mizell's bill to create a state commission with the power to review any decisions regarding removal of such monuments was defeated by the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee in a 5-4 vote along party lines, with Democrats opposed and Republicans in favor.

The bill is aimed at protecting monuments to the Confederacy, where slavery played an important role and whose symbols are seen by many African-Americans as racist and offensive.

Mizell said she wanted to create a seven-member panel that could "step away from the pressure points" when it comes to deciding the fate of a monument.

"History is bigger than a single community or the mood of a moment," Mizell said.

Nationally, the debate over Confederate symbols has become especially heated since June 17, when nine black parishioners were fatally shot at a church in South Carolina. A white man who was photographed with a Confederate flag is charged in their deaths. The killings shocked the country and led South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from its statehouse grounds.

In December, meanwhile, the city of New Orleans voted to remove Confederate monuments — including a huge statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee — but backlash has made it difficult for the city to find a contractor to do the work. Last month, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction to stop any work.

Franklin Jones, a New Orleans-based attorney who is representing plaintiffs in the case before the court, said Mizell's proposal was more progressive than those in other Southern states that completely protect the removal of monuments and memorials and do not allow discussion on their removal.

"There is nothing in her bill that puts it outside the mainstream and outside what other states have found to be an appropriate manner and an appropriate way of dealing with this issue," Jones said.

A recent University of New Orleans survey found a majority of New Orleans residents favor removing prominent Confederate monuments in the city. The opinions split along racial lines with whites in favor of preserving the monuments in their place and blacks favoring their removal, according to the survey.

Backers of the bill — which included veterans, historians, professors and locals — spoke to the lawmakers for more than an hour as they argued for the preservation of state history.

Former Republican state Sen. Elbert Lee Guillory asked the committee not to destroy his ability and the ability of his children and grandchildren "to have full access to history."

Some supporters of the bill compared the issue to the destruction by ISIS of monuments in the Middle East, and others asked for the panel to move the proposal to the full Senate for "a fair hearing." Committee Chair Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, responded that a fair hearing was the purpose of Wednesday's meeting.

Republican Rep. Thomas Carmody last week filed a similar proposal to preserve memorials, and if he moves his own bill in the state House the issue may be considered again later in the session.

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AP reporter Cain Burdeau contributed to this story from New Orleans.