Update, 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 16, 2017Legislative black caucus says Confederate monument vote exposes "deep-rooted belief in white supremacy"

The Louisiana House approved legislation Monday aimed at blocking the removal of Confederate monuments, causing the 24-member Legislative Black Caucus to walk out.

A largely party-line 65-31 vote followed an emotionally charged two hours of debate and comes as the majority-black New Orleans is taking down statues of figures from the Civil War's Confederacy.

"It was disgusting. We just couldn't stay," said Black Caucus member Rep. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette, while waiting in the hall for an aide to get his glasses and cellphone from his desk in the chamber. "You have to stand for something."

The measure now goes to the state Senate for consideration. Two other proposals with similar objectives — House Bill 292 and Senate Bill 198 — are awaiting a hearing in committees.

House Bill 71 would forbid the removal, renaming or alteration of any military monument of any war, including what is referred to in the bill as the “War Between the States,” that is situated on public property unless a majority of the voters in the municipality or parish approve.

All wars were mentioned in the measure, but the debate focused only on Confederate monuments.

“The monuments you seek to protect are deeply offensive to African-Americans and to Christians,” said state Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe. “Do they have any monuments to (Adolf) Hitler in Germany?"

“This bill is very much about white supremacy and divisiveness,” said Rep. Patricia Smith, a Democrat who represents a Baton Rouge district that includes the State Capitol and which is 62 percent African-American.

State Rep. Thomas Carmody Jr., a Shreveport Republican who sponsored HB71, said his legislation "is only about allowing the public to decide." He said he was trying to protect Southern history and heritage. He also said he believes in secession and that the Civil War was not fought by the Confederacy to protect slavery.

An advisory committee in Shreveport, a black-majority city, has been holding hearings on the future of a Confederate memorial in front of the Caddo Parish courthouse. Carmody’s predominantly south Shreveport district is 88 percent white.

Even if the bill passes the Senate and is signed into law, Carmody said that because of the timing, his legislation probably would not halt the two-year effort to remove four monuments that many in New Orleans find objectionable.

“It’s offensive to bring to the middle of my city," said Democratic Rep. Gary Carter, of New Orleans, "monuments to those who fought for my enslavement.”

Carmody replied that voters could approve, in a scheduled election, the choice made by their City Council.

"This is the worst thing I've ever seen done in this building," said Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge.

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Democratic and African-American representatives pursued the strategy of attempting to flood the legislation with amendments, all of which House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, shot down as not being germane to a bill that required a vote on removing Confederate military statues. The speaker’s rulings were sustained on near party-line votes.

“I don’t know why in a session where we can’t balance a budget,” said Democratic Rep. Sam Jones, a former Franklin mayor, “we are here today to refight the Civil War."

Jones attempted to amend the legislation to include a minimum wage. State Rep. Barbara Carpenter, D-Baton Rouge, then tried to amend the bill to allow local elections on equal pay.

Ten legislators spoke against the legislation. Carmody was the only representative who spoke in favor of it.

HB71, Carmody said over and over again, was about holding an election for any effort to remove a war-related monument. No other military memorial is being considered for removal. It was New Orleans and four Confederate statues at the center of the debate.

A marker commemorating the Battle of Liberty Place, a civilian uprising against local government, which formerly had white supremacist wording, was taken down in the middle of the night April 24. A memorial to Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, was removed Thursday.

The remaining two statutes memorialize Robert E. Lee, general of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, and P.G.T. Beauregard, the New Orleans-native general who bombed Fort Sumter in April 1861 to start the Civil War. Both statues pose technical difficulties but will be removed soon.

The Lee statue is high on a pedestal, surrounded by streetcar lines, on a St. Charles Avenue traffic circle. The extremely heavy Beauregard monument is at the Esplanade Avenue intersection where North Carrollton Avenue becomes Wisner Boulevard, at the main entrance of City Park.

New Orleans contends it followed a set procedure — including independent public hearings — to determine how to handle city-owned statues on city-owned property. The City Council voted 6-1 in December 2015 to remove the monuments. The decision and the process were upheld in state and federal courts.

The Confederate monuments largely were erected in the early part of the 20th century, more than a quarter of a century after the Civil War ended and during an era when Louisiana governments systematically excluded black people from voting, holding certain jobs, attending equally funded schools and living where they wanted.

“The record is clear: New Orleans’ Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were erected with the goal of rewriting history to glorify the Confederacy and perpetuate the idea of white supremacy,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu wrote in a letter published Sunday in The Washington Post. “These monuments stand not as mournful markers of our legacy of slavery and segregation, but in reverence of it.”

The effort to remove the monuments has been simmering in New Orleans since the 1980s. But the issue came to the forefront after the 2015 killings of nine parishioners at a Charleston, South Carolina, church by Dylann Roof, who clad his desire for a race war in Confederate memorabilia. Jurisdictions across the South have been debating and removing Confederate statues, flags and other monuments from prominent public display.

Biloxi Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich ordered the Mississippi state flag, which includes a Confederate battle emblem in its left corner, removed from display at city buildings in late April. He said he wants tourists to feel welcome.

Only three Republicans voted against the legislation: House Majority Leader Lance Harris, of Alexandria; Jim Morris, of Oil City and Joseph Stagni, of Kenner.

Voting for HB71 (65): Speaker Barras, Reps. Abraham, Amedee, Anders, Armes, Bacala, Bagley, Berthelot, Billiot, Bishop, C. Brown, T. Brown, Carmody, S. Carter, Chaney, Coussan, Crews, Cromer, Davis, DeVillier, Dwight, Edmonds, Emerson, Falconer, Foil, Garofalo, Gisclair, Guinn, Havard, Hazel, Henry, Hensgens, Hilferty, Hill, Hodges, Hoffmann, Hollis, Horton, Howard, Huval, Ivey, N. Landry, Leopold, Mack, Marino, McFarland, Miguez, G. Miller, Jay Morris, Pearson, Pope, Pugh, Pylant, Richard, Schexnayder, Schroder, Seabaugh, Shadoin, Simon, Stefanski, Talbot, Thibaut, Thomas, White and Zeringue.

Voting against HB71 (31): Reps. Bagneris, Bouie, Carpenter, G. Carter, Cox, Danahay, Franklin, Gaines, Glover, Hall, J. Harris, L. Harris, Hunter, Jackson, James, Jefferson, Jenkins, Jones, Jordan, T. Landry, Leger, Lyons, Magee, Marcelle, D. Miller, Moreno, Jim Morris, Pierre, Price, Smith, and Stagni.

Not Voting (9): Reps Abramson, Broadwater, R. Carter, Connick, Johnson, LeBas, Norton, Reynolds and Stokes.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.