Competing Georgia bills protect and remove Confederate monuments

Confederate monuments are back on state lawmakers' minds, with two Atlanta-area Democrats proposing measures that would remove them from prominent public places, while a north Georgia Republican wants to add more protections for the controversial markers.

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The bills were filed after Georgia narrowly avoided a clash between white supremacists and antifascists last weekend at Stone Mountain, where there is a granite carving of three Confederate leaders.

State Sen. Jeff Mullis said he believes not only that monuments should remain where they were originally erected, but Georgia law should require anyone who vandalizes a marker to pay for the damage that is done. Currently, if a vandal is caught and charged, a judge determines whether he or she would have to pay for the repair or replacement of a monument.

"If they vandalize any government property or any person's property, they should have to pay for it," said Mullis, a Republican from Chickamauga.

Mullis said he proposed Senate Bill 77 not to "protect any particular monuments, it's to protect all monuments."

Still, his proposal comes less than a week after vandals splashed deep red paint on a 30-foot obelisk praising Confederate soldiers in downtown Decatur.

Mullis made clear he believes monuments need to be left alone.

“We need to calm down and respect the wishes of our previous ancestors of whatever kind of monument their city thought was important at that time,” he said.

Bills trying to remove or give local governments the right to remove Confederate monuments have been filed in recent years, but they have gone nowhere in the General Assembly.

Nonetheless, state Rep. Renitta Shannon, a Democrat from Decatur, filed House Bill 175 to ban the use of using public money or property to display Confederate monuments unless they're housed inside museums.

“It’s time for these symbols to come down,” she said. “This bill is simply about restoring the dignity of Georgia’s black taxpayers. Outlawing using taxpayer money to commemorate Confederate culture means I don’t have to pay to support recognized symbols of my own oppression.”

This bill would not affect the display of Confederate flags or any other Confederate emblem on private property.

Shannon’s proposal also would eliminate a state law that preserves the engraving on Stone Mountain honoring Confederates Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Stone Mountain would become a state park instead of a Confederate memorial, but the bill doesn’t seek the demolition of the engravings, Shannon said.

Across the hall in the Senate, state Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat, has proposed Senate Bill 51, which would leave the fate of Confederate monuments up to local governments. The legislation would allow the cities, counties or other organizations that own the public monuments to decide locally whether the monuments should be relocated, concealed or removed.

Both Democratic bills would overturn a 2001 measure that redesigned Georgia’s segregation-era state flag and protected all Confederate monuments in the state. This year’s bills wouldn’t change Georgia’s state flag.

Though many state lawmakers will likely resist changes to allow the removal of Confederate markers, Shannon said most Georgians believe it’s time to stop protecting the monuments.

“There’s no reason public tax dollars should go toward well-established symbols of hate,” Shannon said.

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