In a quote attributed to George Orwell in 1984, now suffering the challenges of disputed parentage, it is said that the most effective way to destroy people is to “deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history”. As of last week, whoever can correctly claim those words does so with growing support in the Florida legislature; as Bills are briskly moving forward in both the House and Senate that will provide some degree of protection for historical monuments and memorials in the State.
Ladies Memorial Association of St Augustine Inc, which publishes Historic City News among other activities, has long supported codified laws like those advancing in Senate Bill 1096 (2023) that will provide “legal standing” for plaintiffs to sue a person or an entity (including local governments) that damage, deface, destroy, or remove any monument like the 1879 Confederate Veterans Memorial.
On October 27, 2017, the full, elected, five-member St Augustine City Commission voted unanimously to preserve, not destroy, the city’s historic cenotaph. Current mayor Nancy Sikes-Kline was a voting participant in the prior, unanimous commission. On Monday, August 10, 2020, in a 3-2 split decision, then commissioner Sikes-Kline reversed — joining the appointed interim mayor, Tracy Upchurch, and ex-commissioner Leanna Freeman (who was also a voting participant in the prior, unanimous commission) in a new vote to relocate the historic artifact to private property 15-miles outside the city limits. Freeman subsequently lost her bid for re-election.
The “Historical Monuments and Memorials Protection Act” was filed in the House by Representative Dean Black, a Jacksonville Republican. In addition to incurring liability for attorney fees, three times the actual cost to return, repair, or replace the monument or memorial, and potentially punitive damages, the Act would prohibit the placement of contextualization on or near a memorial that existed before a specified date without approval from the Secretary of State. HB 1607 is the companion bill to SB 1096, filed last month by Senator Jonathan Martin, a Republican from Fort Myers.
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