TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A proposed bill in the Florida House of Representatives would punish cities for removing historical monuments and memorials, even if the removal happened five years ago.
If passed, the bill would prohibit local governments from removing existing monuments and memorials. Any official involved in removing or damaging the fixtures will be fined $5,000 or the cost of the removal and replacement of the monument, whichever is higher. They may also be liable for triple the amount required to restore the fixture and could face unspecified “punitive damages.”
Those officials could be removed and replaced themselves, according to the bill.
“An elected official acting in his or her official capacity who knowingly and willfully violates this section is subject to removal from office by the Governor,” the bill’s text reads.
HB-395 would apply retroactively to “any monuments or memorials that have been removed, damaged, or destroyed on or after January 1, 2017.” Residents of many southern cities pushed for the removal of monuments honoring Confederate soldiers after white supremacists gathered for the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.
The bill does not directly name the Confederacy, but defines a military memorial as “including any armed conflict since settlers from other countries came to what is now the United States.”
Several Florida cities have removed Confederate monuments since 2016, including Jacksonville and Gainesville. Gainesville’s “Old Joe,” a statue depicting a Confederate solider, was removed to a cemetery in direct response to the Charlottesville rally.
The legislation would allow for a “contextual plaque or marker” to be placed near the monument or memorial, but only if the director of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, State Historic Preservation Officer and the Florida Historical Commission “decide that such marker provides a more accurate understanding of the monument or memorial.”
The bill would also require a statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, which was formerly housed in the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol, to be moved and displayed on the state’s dime.
If passed during the 2024 legislative session in January, HB-395 will go into effect in July.