By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, February 8, 2017, both the Alabama House and Senate versions of the Monuments bill were in committee.
The House version, HB99, is sponsored by state Representative Kyle South. A lengthy public hearing was held Wednesday in the State Government Committee.
Rep. South said that HB99 would create the Alabama memorial preservation act of 2017. In addition to protecting monuments it would also restrict the renaming of streets, towns, parks, schools etc. if the current name has been used for fifty years. South said that there is a process for getting a waiver. The legislation would create a committee to hear the waivers.
South said that he still has some technical issues to resolve. Included in those changes are a 60 day auto approval if the committee does not meet. South told the committee that he would introduce the changed bill in a sub that he will have before the committee upon adjournment on Thursday.
Steve Murray, the Director of the Alabama Archives and History spoke in favor of the bill. He said, “Everyone knows the origins of this discussion” (anti-Confederate backlash after the Charleston massacre) and it concerns Confederate iconography. Murray said that the Civil War is the hinge on which all of southern history is based. Everything before leads up to the events of 1861 thru 1865. Everything that has happened since has been affected by the Civil War. Murray said that to denude the landscape of Confederate monuments and memorials would do ourselves a disservice. They have an educational function and it would be a mistake to remove those.
Murray said that the bill takes a reasonable approach, is easily understandable, and says that all monuments would be treated in an equitable fashion
Beth Lyons, representing the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, denounced the bill and called it a vast over reach of legislative authority. Lyons said that Mobile is the oldest city in the state and that we have been around a lot longer than the Civil War
Lyons warned of tremendous unintended consequences from this particularly concerning planned work involving the Port of Mobile and the Mobile Waterfront. Lyons said that they are aware that there are French, English, and Spanish monuments that could be found buried when they do their work and it is possible that the Port could lose its chicken export expansion if their work was halted while a state committee debated what to do with some discovered statues, which may or may not be there. “Under this bill if we found something in the construction phase we would have to stop construction.” Lyons denounced the bill as an, “Unfunded mandate to cities and counties,” and called it, “Well intentioned” and “Over reaching.”
State Representative Paul Beckman said, “I carried this bill last session. As a history buff we have to look to our history.”
Beckman said that this bill protect civil rights movement monuments, Civil War monuments and monuments to technology in regards to Huntsville. “This is a good bill, it preserves our history.”
Rep. Beckman said that he wanted to bass this bill but it needs to be right. He raised several issues including: How do we know the intent of a monument 100 years ago; how is the $100,000 fine assessed; what is the role of the Attorney General; What do we do with an individual versus a municipality? “I want this bill, but I want these little ambiguities cleared up.”
Beckman said that he has talked to minorities who want to preserve our history and our parks.
Sonny Braswell with the Alabama Association of County Commissions. Braswell said that from a county commission point of view we think that you have enough to do. That we would have to appear before a committee that you appoint we will never advocate.
Braswell said, “There is not a representative of local government on the committee at all. We will be submitting some ideas on how to have local government represtentation on the board
State Representative John Rogers (D-Birmingham) said that it is totally wrong to be telling cities what to do. “To tell them they can’t relocate a monument is wrong.”
Rogers said that some wanted to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge; but he opposed that because, “We want to remember what they did to us on that bridge.”
Rogers said. “I am opposed to the bill. You know we are going to fight it on the floor. Cities have the right to decide what they want to keep and what they want to tear down.” “We want to remember what they did to us, not you but your ancestors.”
Rep. Barbara Boyd (D-Anniston) said, “Why couldn’t this be handed by archives and history instead of appointing a new committee who possibly wouldn’t have as much historical background.”
Murray said that the bill has changed was a legislative committee, then a committee of citizens and now is a blended committee. Murray added that this bill does not apply to federally owned property does not apply to private property strictly state and local
South said that a county would have to file a waiver with the committee to remove or rename a monument
Rep. Ralph Howard (D-Greensboro) said, “I don’t think we need the state telling us how we do our business.”
Lyons warned that there is historical evidence that there is statues and monuments there covered up along the river. Indian artifacts are protected by federal government. City government has the authority over historical artifacts.
Rep. Mark Tuggle (R-Alexander City) said, “If it is federal money you are spending you are going to have to slow down,” (if artifacts are found).
Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) suggested that, “If county makeup changes in forty years they could chose to remove those civil rights monuments I would not want that.”
The Committee is supposed to meet today to vote on the bill.
The Senate version of the bill received a favorable recommendation from the Senate committee and could be on the floor of the Senate within days.
Senator Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) is the sponsor of the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act bill in the Senate.
Sen. Allen said, “I am concerned about politically-correct efforts to erase entire portions of American history, and oftentimes these efforts to remove a statute or a monument are done in haste and without public knowledge. I believe our children and grandchildren should remember history as it happened – the good and the bad. The Alabama Memorial Preservation Act will protect state history for the benefit of future generations.”