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Bill protecting state monuments clears Georgia Senate

March 5, 2019 - Atlanta - Senator Jeff Mullis, sponsored SB 77, which provides protections for government statues, monuments, plaques, banners, and other commemorative symbols.   The legislature was in session for the 27th day of the 2019 General Assembly.   Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
March 5, 2019 - Atlanta - Senator Jeff Mullis, sponsored SB 77, which provides protections for government statues, monuments, plaques, banners, and other commemorative symbols. The legislature was in session for the 27th day of the 2019 General Assembly. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Georgia senators voted Tuesday to increase the penalties against those who damage the state’s public and private monuments.

The topic was hotly debated during a public hearing last month, with many saying the legislation would make it more difficult for communities to remove Confederate monuments.

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

It passed 34-17. State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims of Dawson was the only Democrat to vote in support of the legislation.

Mullis, a Chickamauga Republican, said Georgia law should require anyone who vandalizes a marker to pay for the damage that is done — and more. 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.

The legislation requires a vandal must pay up to three times the cost of the damage and legal fees.

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.

Heidi Beirich with the Southern Poverty Law Center said she did not believe Confederate monuments and markers should be held with the same regard as the “heroes of the American Revolution.”

"At a time when cities all over the country are actively removing Confederate symbols from public spaces, it is disappointing that some Georgia lawmakers are choosing to play politics with our history and promote divisiveness,” Beirich said.

Mullis said the purpose of his proposal is to preserve all history — “the good, the bad and the ugly.”

“So lets add additional statues and memorials and honorariums to preserve history of this moment for the next moment,” he said. “And who knows, in 100 years those may be considered offensive.”