Legislation protecting historical monuments passed the Georgia House Thursday with a few language tweaks, sending it back to the Senate for a vote to confirm.
Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, sponsored SB 77, which levies triple damages and court costs against anyone found guilty of defacing a public monument.
It also adds an exception to state law prohibiting their removal. Local and state entities may move them for construction projects, but they must be placed “in a site of similar prominence.”
The controversial measure passed the Senate 34 to 17, with Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, in support.
In Thursday’s House action, Floyd County’s delegates – Reps. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome; Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee; and Mitchell Scoggins, R-Cartersville – joined the majority 100 to 71 vote.
The House substitute contains the same provisions as Mullis’ bill but also eliminates references throughout state law to monuments dedicated to military service including the Confederate States of America. Instead, it folds the reference into the definition of a monument.
The change had the House presenter, Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, contending that the protections aren’t about the Confederacy, but about preserving the past.
“You can find something bad about anyone and anything in history but, let me tell you folks, history is what history is,” Powell said.
He said “it’s become chic” to desecrate monuments as a political statement, but “it’s a crime.” In a lengthy speech, he mentioned Jewish cemeteries, memorials to the Vietnam Conflict and statues of Martin Luther King Jr. as examples of residents’ heritage and deserving of respect.
“If you fail to protect one person’s monument, then be prepared to have someone not protect yours,” Powell said.
Push-back came in a floor debate that lasted over an hour.
Many opponents spoke of the pain African-American Georgians may feel from visual reminders of a time when the state fought to keep their ancestors enslaved. The unfairness of their taxes going to maintain monuments to the Confederacy and the potential economic impact from boycotts were issues as well.
Rep. Gregg Kennard, D-Lawrenceville, who is white, spoke of being taught as a boy to be proud of “our Confederate monuments” like Stone Mountain, and his later “shock to learn the true horrors of transatlantic slave trade.”
And Rep. Angelika Kausche, D-Johns Creek, told of growing up in Germany “at a time when Germany was finally beginning to grapple with its Nazi past.” Families were still divided, she said, but the nation confronted their history and united for the future.
“There are many dark places in Germany ... but no monuments celebrating it,” Kausche said.
While SB 77 would allow relocation of existing monuments for building expansions or transportation projects, it specifically prohibits putting them in a museum, cemetery or mausoleum “unless it was originally placed at such a location.”
The measure could go to the Senate floor as early today. Lawmakers have just two days remaining in the 2019 session: Today and April 2. Any legislation that fails to pass both chambers will start where it left off in the process next year.