A bill that would block local governments in Louisiana from removing Confederate monuments and other commemorative statues without state permission was filed Friday in the Legislature.
The measure, which cannot be taken up until the regular session starting March 14, could elevate the bitter spat over four Confederate monuments in New Orleans and perhaps others elsewhere to the state level.
The bill, Senate Bill 276, would create a statewide commission that would need to grant waivers before local jurisdictions could remove, rename or otherwise alter a public memorial to a “historic conflict, historic entity, historic event, historic figure or historic organization.”
That would cover all the monuments Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the City Council want to remove in New Orleans. The monuments in question honor Gen. Robert E. Lee, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and a white militia group that rebelled against the state’s biracial Reconstruction-era government in 1874.
The proposed Louisiana Heritage Protection Commission would consist of appointees of the House speaker and Senate president and the secretary of the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.
The bill was filed by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, who did not immediately return a call.
Members of the almost 10,000-member Facebook group Save Our Circle, who oppose taking down the city’s Confederate memorials, have contacted their representatives to try to get such a bill passed.
Even if it becomes law, Mizell’s bill could come too late to stop officials’ plans to take down the New Orleans monuments this spring. The bill says the commission it creates must meet on or before Sept. 15. Public bids to remove three of the four New Orleans monuments are due on April 22.
A similar battle may be brewing in Lafayette, though the Lafayette City-Parish Council has not considered a specific proposal to do anything with a monument there of Confederate Gen. Alfred Mouton.
Even if Mizell’s bill is intended to block New Orleans’ planned actions, the city maintains that “it is well within its rights to manage its own property. When challenged, this fact has been upheld in federal, state and local courts,” Landrieu press secretary Hayne Rainey said Friday.
Groups opposed to the monuments’ removal have gone to court to try to block the city from taking them down, to no avail. Courts have ruled that the city may proceed with the removals while the legal fights play out, with U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruling that essentially none of the arguments raised by opponents had a chance of prevailing in a full trial. Civil District Court Judge Piper Griffin echoed that position last month.
Notices of appeal were filed in both cases, and the opponents have pledged to pursue the cases as far as they can.
One such group, the Monumental Task Committee, praised Mizell’s bill Friday.
“We are pleased to see that this Legislature is considering methods to restrict the removal of these historical monuments, a step that has already been taken by many of our neighboring states,” the group said in a statement.
“We are excited about the possibilities that we can achieve with the help of our collaborators and supporters, including Sen. Mizell and the Louisiana Heritage Protection Commission.”
New Orleans has asked for bids to remove all of the local monuments save the one honoring the militia group’s 1874 uprising, as that statue is protected by a court order that the city will need to get lifted before it can remove that marker.
The city initially selected a contractor from a pool of companies that are pre-approved for relatively small city jobs. That contractor, H&O Investments of Baton Rouge, backed out after its owner and employees received death threats. Shortly thereafter, the owner’s Lamborghini was found torched in the parking lot of the business.
The owner of a separate firm who showed interest in the project said she received calls from people warning her not to bid on it and threatening to try to put her out of business if she did.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.