TALLAHASSEE, FL—Senate Democrats stormed out of committee at the introduction of a new bill that would punish anyone who removes, damages, or destroys a Confederate monument or memorial. After a proponent congratulated the bill's fight for "white culture", an intense debate ensued.
"This bill creates the Historical Monuments and Memorials Protection Act," SB 1122's sponsor, Republican Sen. Jonathan Martin, said Monday evening. "This will ensure that all historic monuments and memorials, regardless of where they are located in the state, are protected and preserved, and not removed, damaged, or destroyed,"
In public testimony, a proponent of the bill congratulated its fight against the "attack on white culture," sparking intense backlash from all members.
Republican Sen. Alexis Calatayud condemned the "atrocious" comments advocating for "white culture and white supremacy," while Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley said that the man's comments almost made her "want to vote 'no'" on the bill.
"I am very, very hurt by some of the things that were said here today," Democratic Sen. Rosalind Osgood said. "As a black person living in America, where it's supposed to be the land of freedom and justice for all...the outpour of conversation today was not American,"
"I've got members and colleagues whose families have also been here since 1821, and not voluntarily," Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo said, explaining how having to stare at a Confederate monument on the way to work, "Serves no other purpose than to remind them of the time that their family—at best—was no more than 3/5 of a person,"
Democrats walked out of Committee when it was time to vote, leading bill sponsor Sen. Martin to angrily exclaim: "Where are the Democrats? These are my colleagues and we work together on so many bills, and I'm disgusted that they're gone right now,"
Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, a funeral director and descendant of a Confederate soldier, affirmed his strong support for the legislation, claiming, "You don't disrespect somebody who's not here to tell their part of their story...To me, any place someone is honored, I don't know the whole story but I do know it's very disrespectful in my work to disparage a grave,"
In a previous form of the bill, a legislator who votes to remove a Confederate monument or memorial could have been fined up to $1,000 and removed from office by the Governor. Sen. Martin removed the provision Monday afternoon.
Starting in 2015, Florida stripped the Confederate battle flag from its seal, and soon after replaced the statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall with civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune. In following years, the cities of Orlando, Jacksonville, Gainesville, and Tampa all began the Confederate removal process.
Last week, Gov. DeSantis stated his support for the legislation in Jacksonville, saying: “I have not seen the legislation, but I’ve been very clear ever since I’ve been Governor, I do not support taking down monuments in this state,”
SB 1122 passed down party lines, and will head to its final committee before the Senate Floor, the Committee on Fiscal Policy. Its House Companion has two more stops before the Floor.