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Tie vote stalls bill to protect Confederate monuments

In this In this Sept. 2, 2015 file photo, the Robert E. Lee Monument is seen in Lee Circle in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
In this In this Sept. 2, 2015 file photo, the Robert E. Lee Monument is seen in Lee Circle in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File) AP

BATON ROUGE, La. -- A bill aimed at protecting Louisiana's Confederate monuments failed to draw enough support Thursday to advance in the state House, though it's unclear if that will end legislative debate on the divisive issue.

Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, said his proposal to preserve "public memory" would create a state board with the power to grant or deny proposals to remove monuments. The House municipal affairs committee stalled it in a 7-7 vote in a partisan vote, with Republicans supporting the measure and Democrats opposing it.

Carmody said he hasn't decided whether to continue pursuing the proposal. A similar measure by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, was rejected by a Senate committee. The bills are aimed at protecting monuments to the Confederacy, where slavery played an important role and whose symbols are seen by many African-Americans as racist and offensive.

"I'm not sure what I will do next. I have some options. I plan to look at it this weekend and assess where the bill stands before making any decisions," Carmody said.

Under Carmody's bill, a seven-member Memorial Preservation Board would review any decisions to alter, remove or maintain monuments that have stood on public property for more than 30 years.

The panel's tie kept the full House from weighing in on New Orleans' December vote to remove city Confederate monuments, including a towering statute of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Last month, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction to stop the work.

The panel debated whether local or state boards should have decision making power when it comes to public property.

Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, argued municipalities can already make those decisions for themselves and don't need oversight from a state board. Rep. Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport, said the measure may be too far reaching in extending to all public property instead of only state owned land.

Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, pointed to local interest in renaming Robert E. Lee High School in Baton Rouge. The bill would block the school board from making the final decision on the name, she said.

Carmody's proposal says the state shouldn't "scrutinize the personal lives or intentions of those who have made great contributions to Louisiana or American culture, society and government" where contributions are "lost in judgments made with the benefit of hindsight or in context which is removed in time and circumstance."

But Marcelle said some monuments would be better housed in museums.

"We need to remember what represents bravery to some represents something else to others," she said.

Monument preservation supporters urged the panel to consider that the state board could protect all monuments, not just memorials to the Confederacy.

Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, supported the bill, saying it would align Louisiana with a growing "national standard" to preserve statewide histories. He said memorials are in place to remember the past even when they deal with sensitive periods of national and world history. Edmonds pointed to Holocaust museums as an example of such remembrances.

Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie, called monument preservation an often "thankless task." It's crucial, she said, to consider the figures in their historical contexts.

Norton opposed all suggestions that removing monuments would erase history or stop parents or grandparents from teaching their children about the past.

"We may be able to remove some monuments, but our history stays with us forever," she said.

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Online:

House Bill 944: www.legis.la.gov

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