The first legislative bid to block the removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans failed Wednesday.
A bill that would require the approval of a new state commission to toss the statues of Robert E. Lee and others was rejected by the Louisiana Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The party-line vote was four in favor and five opposed.
Opponents appeared at the hearing, including an official for the city of New Orleans. However, none testified and the bill was voted down without discussion after 90 minutes of testimony from backers. Critics of the monuments call them relics and offensive.
Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, sponsor of the measure, said removing historical sites deserves more scrutiny and a state role.
“History is bigger than a single community or the mood of the moment,” said Mizell, a freshman senator handling her first bill.
The measure, Senate Bill 276, would ban the removal of a wide range of war and other historic sites on public property unless a seven-member panel — the Louisiana Heritage Protection Commission — granted a waiver.
The move is aimed at derailing plans to take down Civil War monuments that have sparked controversy for months. The New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 in December to allow removal of four monuments.
They are statues honoring Gen. Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and a militia group known as the White League, which sought to overthrow Louisiana’s biracial Reconstruction-era government.
However, when that will happen is unclear. A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction last month preventing Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration from proceeding until the court hears an appeal by monument backers.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, also a Republican, sat beside Mizell and asked the panel to back the measure.
Nungesser said the sites in dispute are one of the attractions of international and other tourists that generated $3.5 billion in Louisiana last year.
“These sites are an important part of the tourism product we promote,” he said. “I ask you to please allow this bill to go to the floor.”
Jonathan Maki, who lives in New Orleans, said the anti-monument push could mean open season on other historical figures, including U.S. Sen. Henry Clay, a slaveholder, and New Orleans founder Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, who promoted slavery, who also have monuments in the city.
“The Ursuline nuns in New Orleans owned slaves,” Maki said. “Should we close down their convent?”
Former state Sen. Elbert Guillory, who backed the bill, compared the push to remove monuments to Nazi bookburning and Islamic State extremists destroying 2,500-year-old monuments in the Middle East.
“There is no such thing as good history and bad history.” Guillory said. “There is just history.”
Democrats opposed the measure, and Republicans on the panel backed it.
Opponents were Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, chairwoman of the panel; Sens. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, and Greg Tarver, D-Shreveport.
Backers were Sens. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, Neil Riser, R-Columbia, and Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe.
All five opponents are African Americans. All four committee backers of the bill are white.
A similar measure, House Bill 944, is awaiting action in a House committee.
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