BATON ROUGE, La. – Preceded by roughly two hours of emotional testimony, the House Municipal and Cultural Affairs Committee voted 10-8 Wednesday to send to the full House a bill that would prevent the state and local governments from destroying or removing public military memorials.
It was a not-so-veiled attempt to stop the city of New Orleans from removing prominently placed statues of Confederate generals and officials, and to stop such action from happening anywhere else in the state.
Committee chairman John Berthelot, R-Gonzales, was forced to quiet the crowded committee room several times throughout the hearing. Those gathered in the audience verbalized support and opposition during testimony and eventually erupted in cheers as the vote as announced.
House Bill 71 by Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, would prohibit the altering, removing, relocating or destroying of military memorials on public property meant to commemorate U.S. wars, as well as monuments dedicated to or named for historical military figures, military events, military organizations and military units.
However, Carmody introduced an amendment during committee meeting would also allow a local governments the option of putting the relocation or destruction of memorials to a vote of its people. He said his objective in proposing the legislation is not only to ensure veterans are properly honored, but also to “stop the hate.”
“These are military monuments. If what your perception is that somehow or another it brings hate into your community, put it on the ballot,” Carmody said. “Let the people decide that. Let them stop the hate by their own actions. If it passes, that is the will of the people. That is what this country is founded on.”
While Rep. Joseph Stagni, R-Kenner, said he feels the bill is “well-intended,” he believes this type of measure is meant for a local governing authority -- particularly those that have a home rule charter -- to handle, rather than the state.
Major Bradley Hayes, a veteran and president of the New Orleans chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, acknowledged it is likely too late to undo what is already taking place in New Orleans.
He warned that the removal of the New Orleans Confederate monuments has opened a Pandora’s Box, creating an opportunity for people to target military monuments around the country.
Hayes noted that the U.S. Army honors all veterans, regardless of whether they served in the Revolutionary War or Iraq and Afghanistan.
Caddo Parish Commissioner Steven Jackson testified the Louisiana Constitution already empowers local governments to set up local preservation societies which citizens can submit applications to for the preservation of a historic monument.
He also emphasized that there would be costs associated with localities holding elections to allow people to vote on a proposition to have a monument relocated. In Caddo Parish, he said a referendum election costs roughly $200,000.
Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, said she doesn’t feel the measure has to do with protecting veterans, especially because there is already a process in place for Louisianans to submit an application requesting such a monument be preserved.
“I have a problem with usurping the will of the local government … I think this is a way to go around the local authorities when you don’t get what you want from the local authorities.” Marcelle said, adding that New Orleans, if stopped by this law, would file a lawsuit “which it will win” and force the state into a costly defense in times of financial exigency.