Florida state legislators take aim at Confederate monuments, holidays

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- As Richard Spencer prepared to deliver his speech in Gainesville this month, Democratic legislators in Florida took aim at Confederate monuments and holidays, sponsoring bills that would remove both from public observance.

Following through on a promise he made after the events in Charlottesville, Va., Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, introduced legislation earlier this month that would effectively remove all Confederate statues and monuments located on property that is owned or leased by the state.

“Who we once were cannot, and should not, continue to define who we are today as a state," Jones said in a press release. "...It is time that we assess this period in our history with the context it deserves and with the clear-eyed understanding that our ghosts are just that: spirits whose presence cannot continue to haunt us.”

House Bill 235 refers to any monument erected, named or dedicated in commemoration of an officer of the Military of the Confederate States of America, a white nationalist organization or "other organization that promotes a white separatist or white supremacist ideology."

It's estimated that there are at least 30 Confederate monuments or statues located on public land in Florida, according to a recent report. The bill calls for the removal and relocation of these commemorative structures by January 1, 2020.

If passed, the Florida Department of Management Services would be responsible for removing all Confederate monuments and relocating them to the Museum of Florida History.

"Rather than being held up as figures of celebration, it is past time we relegate these symbols of oppression and bigotry to the halls of museums where their proper context can be articulated," Jones said in a press release earlier this month. "As one of the most proudly diverse states in our nation, Florida needs to show our citizens that we value everyone equally and will not be divided by the voices of bigotry and racism."

On Oct. 12, the bill was referred to the Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee chaired by Republican Neil Combee. It could be heard and voted on by committee members as early as next week.

 

 

Not all politicians in Florida, however, agree on the process of removing and relocating Confederate statues. When asked about a monument in Jacksonville, U.S. Rep. John Rutherford said he believes the issue should be brought to a vote.

"At some point in the past, communities decided they wanted those monuments up so they put them up," Rutherford said. "If a community wants to vote to take them down, take them down, but it should be a community decision. It shouldn’t be a city council decision. It shouldn’t be a mayoral decision."

The former Jacksonville Sheriff said a conversation involving the community and its leaders is necessary regardless of whatever decision is inevitably made. Furthermore, Rutherford said he's unsure if it's "fair to judge men and women 200 years ago by the values and morays of today."

State Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, also filed legislation this month that would put an end to yet another homage to the Confederate States, holidays.

House Bill 277, if passed, would effectively remove the birthdays of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and President of the Confederate States Jefferson Davis from the list of legal holidays recognized by the State of Florida. Confederate Memorial Day, celebrated on April 26, would also be removed from the list.

This week, the bill was referred to the Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee, where it waits be heard alongside HB 235.

“When I think of who should be honored with legal holidays, the types of people who come to mind are not those that cost millions of lives in the defense of slavery,” Moskowitz said in a press release. “I’m positive that celebrating racism shouldn’t be on the calendar each year."

A companion bill sponsored by Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, was filed in August and has since been referred to the Senate Committee on Community Affairs, as well as Governmental Oversight & Accountability.

"It’s not erasing history to put it where it belongs," Moskowitz said, "in a history book or a museum hall."
 

Follow Jordan Ferrell on Twitter at @J_E_Ferrell.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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