Confederate statues protected under Georgia bill, which is on path toward passage

March 29, 2019 GMT

Conservative monuments and other memorials would receive new protections under a bill passed by the Georgia Legislature Thursday.

Members of the Georgia state House of Representatives voted 100-71 in favor of the bill, SB 77, sending it back to the Senate where an earlier version easily passed weeks earlier.

Offered by Georgia state Sen. Jeff Mullis, Chickamauga Republican, the legislation would impose heavier fines on vandals caught defacing public monuments and make their removal or relocation more difficult.

If passed again in the Georgia Senate and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, the legislation would prohibit the dismantling and moving of publicly owned monuments without taking appropriate measures for their “preservation, protection and interpretation.”

“A monument shall not be relocated to a museum, cemetery, or mausoleum unless it was originally placed at such location,” reads part of the bill.

Republicans behind the bill have said the legislation is meant to broadly protect all monuments. But opponents have said it is an unsubtle effort to shield memorials dedicated specifically to the former Confederacy, particularly in light of rekindled efforts to dismantle those statues from throughout the state and others.

“It’s not lost on anyone that its purpose is to silence the debate surrounding Confederate monuments in Georgia,” said Georgia state Rep. Angelika Kausche, Johns Creek Democrat, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Indeed, efforts to dismantle similar statues across the south have gained steam in the nearly two years since a rally held in support of a Confederate statue slated for removal culminated in a participant killing a counterprotester and injuring dozens of others in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. James Alex Fields Jr., 21, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to 29 related federal hate crime charges. He was previously convicted of first-degree murder and is awaiting sentencing.

Georgia’s bill would specifically shield memorials dedicated to “a historical entity or historically significant military, religious, civil, civil rights, political, social, or cultural events or series of events,” as well as the “military service of any past or present military personnel of this state; the United States of America or the several states thereof; or the Confederate States of America or the several states thereof.”

“If you fail to protect one person’s monument, then be prepared to have someone not protect yours,” said Georgia state Rep. Alan Powell, Hartwell Republican, the Marietta Daily Journal reported.

There were nearly 800 monuments honoring the Confederacy in the U.S. as of February, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported last month, including 114 in Georgia more than any other state.