The Alabama Senate Government Affairs Committee on Tuesday gave favorable reports to two bills, one of which would make it a Class B felony to damage a monument during a riot or “unlawful gathering” and another that would require a municipality to install a marker memorializing the name connected to any removed memorial building.
State Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, introduced Senate Bill 53, which would make it a Class C felony to mark or damage a monument, which can lead to a prison sentence of up to 10 years. The bill makes it a Class B felony if the damage was done during a riot “aggravated riot, or unlawful assembly.” Class B felonies could lead to 20 years in prison.
Allen’s SB54 would require the government entity that removed a memorial building to install a marker at the location named for the person memorialized by the former building. The Bill would also increase penalties from a one-time fine of $25,000 to a fine of $5,000 a day. The bill would also require the construction of a statue of the late civil rights leader John Lewis at the entrance to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
Alabama’s Memorial Preservation Act, approved by the state Legislature in 2017, prohibits cities and counties from removing monuments from public property that have been there for 40 years or more, or face a one-time $25,000 fine.
Confederate monuments have been removed in Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile following nationwide protests over police brutality. A surge in Black Lives Matter protests following the shooting death of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer prompted national conversations about Confederate monuments.
Committee members first took up SB53, and Sen. Sam Givhan, R-Huntsville, questioned whether municipal workers could be charged with a felony under the bill for removing a monument.
“Let’s say we’ve got a situation where a city council votes to remove a monument in violation of the existing statute, and they send their public works group out there to remove this monument. Those guys guilty of a felony?,” Givhan asked.
Allen answered that SB54 would address his concerns, to which Givhan said that if SB54 failed to pass, his concerns about SB53 would remain valid. The committee then tabled SB53 and took up SB54.
Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, said she liked the portion of the bill that would allow a municipality to remove a memorial building so long as a marker is installed in that location, but questioned the increased fine.
“I think that was a good idea, rather than trying to penalize the municipalities a local governments,” Coleman-Madison said, but asked if Lee would reduce the fine from $5,000 a day to $1,000 a day.
“I understand you want to give a little nudge and say, we want you to be serious about this, but I think $5,000 is, to me, that’s just a killer for your bill,” Coleman-Madison said
Allen said a fine of $10,000 a day had originally been suggested, and recommended it remain at $5,000.
Members voted to give the bill a favorable report, with Coleman-Madison abstaining. The committee then moved back to SB53.
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, asked if Lee would be open to discussing the bill’s criminal penalties. Lee said that discussion could be had on the Senate floor when the bill’s brought up for a vote there, and Orr said hopefully those discussions could take place before then.
Members then voted to give the bill a favorable report, with Coleman-Madison again abstaining.