Vandalized memorial bill heads to final Senate hearing

Despite several concerns, Florida Politics is reporting that the Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted unanimously to move forward legislation that would make vandalizing memorials a felony.  Residents in veteran-rich St Augustine and St Johns County have been telling Historic City News that this is a Bill that should have become state law years ago.

The Ladies Memorial Association of St Augustine Inc, a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization whose members support preservation of irreplaceable 19th century veteran memorials, believes that you do not need to look very far around the state, or our community, to see just how much authentic history we have to protect.

“Memorials to military veterans are being vandalized,” said Association treasurer, LeAnne Feagin.  “American flags at graves in the historically black cemetery in Ormond Beach were recently broken and burned.”

If passed into law, the vandals in Ormond Beach, and their ilk, would have to pay to repair the monuments.  Violators would face a third-degree felony charge and could be fined up to $5,000 and imprisoned for up to 5 years.

“A Tuskegee Airman memorial in Winter Park was damaged last year and a Sarasota statue depicting a soldier kissing a woman in Times Square was vandalized with #MeToo spray painted on it,” said Senator Victor Torres, who is sponsoring SB-1690.  “These are just a few examples of memorials across Florida honoring the brave men and women who have served our United States military.”

Most of these cowardly acts currently take place with little or no consequences, explaining why there has been strong support for stiffer penalties for defacing or destroying these historic artifacts.

The proposed legislation, in its current form, also provides penalties for obstructing the view of any memorial in existence on or before January 1, 2019, without the Secretary of State’s authorization.  Some committee members questioned why the bill prohibits anyone from obstructing the view of an older memorial, but not to those erected after that date.  

Criminal Justice Vice Chair Jeff Brandes asked if the bill would make placing a sheet over a memorial a third-degree felony because that would obstruct the view. He also questioned whether it’s the same degree of severity as physically attacking a police officer.  The language regarding criminal penalties also provides no exception for examples like parks workers ordered to remove a statue.

The committee voted 5-0 to approve the legislation, with the understanding that Torres will consider the members’ comments as it goes through the Senate Rules Committee.