A revamped bill that would protect certain monuments on public property, including those honoring the Civil War, was rejected in a House committee Tuesday.
Senate Bill 515 by Sen. Mark Johnson, R-Little Rock, would require waivers to be granted by the Arkansas History Commission for changes to the monuments and would set criminal penalties for violations.
The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 5-11 on a motion to recommend House approval of the amended version of the bill. Eleven votes are required for approval of legislation in the 20-member committee. On Friday, none of the committee's members made a motion to recommend approval of an earlier version of the measure.
Johnson told the House committee that his bill "would keep someone from throwing away something that doesn't seem to have much value to your average Sheetrock hanger, but could mean a whole lot to the family of some veteran or someone else that was honored years ago.
"This is not to play gotcha with anybody. I think it is a simple solution to a problem that, if you think about it, is not really that complex, but to honor the heritage of our people in the past and certainly those who put themselves in harm's way for our citizens," he said.
A committee member, Rep. John Payton, R-Wilbur, said he favors the bill because "I believe it is little to ask that we go the extra mile to try to protect those memorials that have been set up by our ancestors because they wanted us to know and remember something that happened."
But another committee member, Rep. Gayla McKenzie, R-Gravette, said she opposed the bill because "we are taking the people's power and the people's voice and we are giving it to this commission where they will have no input, none.
"I agree that we need to be preserving a lot of things out of respect for our history. But I think you may find you are going to have a different result. These people are not elected. They are appointed, and governors change," she said. "What are you going to do when we decide we have got a better way and we want to repurpose something, a little more politically correct, whatever the motive?"
The committee vice chairman, Rep. Justin Gonzales, R-Okolona, who voted against the bill, said the Legislature passed a measure to protect some of the state-owned monuments during a previous legislative session.
"I think it is an extreme overreach when we go to telling cities and counties what they can do with their monuments that is on their property that they paid for," he said. "If the federal government came down and told us what to do with the monuments on our state Capitol grounds, we wouldn't like that. We would stand up and throw a fit about it."
The amended bill would define a monument as "a statute, memorial, gravestone plate, nameplate, plaque, historic flag display, school, bridge or building that" is on public property and has been erected for or named or dedicated in honor of a historical person, historical event, military organization or military unit and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The bill lists 17 military operations, ranging from the French and Indian War to the Civil War from World War II to Operation Just Cause, the U.S. invasion of Panama in late 1989 and early 1990.
"A monument shall not be relocated, removed, altered, renamed, rededicated, vandalized, damaged, destroyed or otherwise disturbed" under SB515.
An entity exercising control of public property that is a monument or on which a monument is situated may petition the History Commission for a waiver from the bill's requirements. The bill also would require the History Commission to file proposed rules to implement the measure with the Legislative Council before Jan. 1, 2020, so the council can consider the rules for approval before then.
Metro on 04/10/2019
Print Headline: Plan to protect statues falters