A controversial new proposal currently under consideration in Florida's state senate would empower defenders of Confederate monuments and other historical property to sue over the removal or destruction of “lost history”.
The Republican-majority Community Affairs Committee backed bill SB 1096 in a 6-2 party line vote on 5 April, pushing back against growing public disillusionment with the symbolic glorification of slavery and the forces that promoted it in the US. The proposed legislation extends to plaques, banners, flags and statues that are considered “dedicated to a historical person, entity, event or series of events and that honours or recounts the military service of any past or present military personnel or the past or present public service of a resident of the geographical area”.
The bill, titled the “Historical Monuments and Protection Act”, would allow civilians to sue for three times the value of the repairs to displaced monuments, a system known as “treble damages”, placing Florida once again at the forefront of America’s culture wars.
State senator Lori Berman, one of two senators to vote against the bill in the Community Affairs hearing, told Hyperallergic, “I think this bill is absolutely a response to the removal of Confederate statues, no question.”
Even as Florida cities like Jacksonville voted to remove these monuments in the wake of 2020’s nationwide movement to take down Confederate monuments, opponents have called for their safeguarding, often arguing that they represent “cultural heritage”. While most legal attempts to block the removal of Confederate monuments and memorials have been struck down, Florida's proposed bill would circumvent bureaucratic red tape by allowing private citizens to sue local government.
Bill sponsor Jonathan Martin, a Republican senator representing Fort Myers, told the Miami Herald; “What I like about these memorials in public places is that everybody has the opportunity to see who we were…The older the monument, the more important it is, because it provides a starting point for what our country began as, who led our country.”
“We don't build monuments around the sins of individuals, we build them because of something great that they did," Martin added. "I want to teach my kids that despite your imperfections, you can still do something great.”
Fort Lauderdale state senator Rosalind Osgood, a Black woman, disagreed, pointing out that many Confederate monuments were actually erected in the 1950s and 60s in response to the Civil Rights movement. “People that look like me really are offended by a lot of the Confederate monuments”, she told the Herald.
The current proposal must be approved by the Rules Committee in order to reach the senate floor; a version of the bill in Florida's house of representatives has thus far cleared the Constitutional Rights, Rule of Law and Government Operations Subcommittee.