After its second failure Thursday, the legislative bid to block the removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans may be done for the session.
The latest attempt, House Bill 944, failed to win approval in the House Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs Committee. The vote was 7-7.
A similar proposal failed in a state Senate committee last week.
The bill would ban the removal or relocating of a statue, monument, memorial or plaque that has been on public property for more than 30 years without a waiver from a newly created Memorial Preservation Board.
“It is our unique story that makes us such a diverse culture,” said state Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, sponsor of the bill.
“The reality is we cannot change the past,” Carmody said. “The past is a story that is already written. It is the truth.”
However, Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, blasted the legislation.
While backers of the bill warn about erasing history, it is the story of black people that has been distorted and omitted, Smith said. “But what we see are the statues of our enslavement,” she said.
Carmody and others could try to block the removal of the four monuments in dispute through other means, including amendments to bills moving through the Legislature.
However, the fact that two similar bills died in House and Senate committees means any such effort will be difficult, especially in a session dominated by the looming $750 million budget shortfall.
The effort stems from a vote in December by the New Orleans City Council to remove monuments to Gen. Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and a militia group known as the White League.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th 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.
Last week, the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee rejected a similar bill with four in favor and five opposed.
While Thursday’s vote was tied, Carmody’s proposal drew heavy fire from some committee members.
State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, said the measure would block any efforts to rename Lee High School in Baton Rouge. “I believe that should be left up to the school board,” Marcelle said.
Rep. Sam Jenkins Jr., D-Shreveport, said Carmody’s bill would add another level of bureaucracy. “That is a little far-reaching for me,” Jenkins said.
Smith, a veteran legislator, said she was “trying to compose myself” before denouncing arguments that taking down monuments was an effort to erase history.
“But when we came on the boats from Africa and settled on plantations and had the sorts of things happen to our ancestors and when we were released from bondage, no one put up statues for our history,” she said.
Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie, praised the bill.
Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, said the legislation appeared to mirror national standards.
Carmody said he always has been a history buff. “The intent of my bill is that we preserve what makes us unique,” he told the committee.
He said statues and monuments commemorate acts of bravery and leadership, even if some of the actions are distasteful today.
“We need to remember that what represents bravery to some represents something else to others,” she said.
Voting to create a board to consider monuments (7): Reps. John A. Berthelot, R-Gonzales; Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge; Stephen Dwight, R-Lake Charles; Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge; Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie; Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge; and Stephen E. Pugh, R-Ponchatoula.
Voting against HB944 (7): Reps. Joseph Bouie, D-New Orleans; Cedric Glover, D-Shreveport; Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport; Rodney Lyons, D-Harvey; Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge; Barbara M. Norton, D-Shreveport; and Patricia Haynes Smith, D-Baton Rouge.
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