Georgia House approves bill protecting Confederate, state monuments

The Georgia House voted Thursday to increase the penalties against those who damage the state's public and private monuments — and make it more difficult to remove or relocate Confederate markers.

It passed 100-71.

The bill's sponsor, Chickamauga Republican state Sen. Jeff Mullis, has said he proposed Senate Bill 77 "to protect all monuments."

The legislation now heads back to the Senate, which will have to approve changes that were made to the bill in the House. One Senate Democrat voted in favor of SB 77 when it was approved on a party-line vote earlier this month.

While discussing the bill in the House, state Rep. Alan Powell played a slideshow of damaged monuments from World War I, cemeteries and the Peace Monument in Piedmont Park.

“This bill is about inclusion, diversity and tolerance,” the Hartwell Republican said. “This isn’t about Confederate monuments, its about all monuments.”

Powell said vandalizing monuments has become the “chic” thing to do.

“It’s not civil disobedience — it’s a crime,” he said.

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

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

Opponents of the legislation argued that “local control” was the best way to handle the regulation of monuments.

"SB 77 is disguised as the bill to protect all historical monuments in Georgia," said Johns Creek Democratic state Rep. Angelika Kausche. "It's not lost on anyone that its purpose is to silence the debate surrounding Confederate monuments in Georgia."

The legislation will also require a local government seeking to relocate a monument to place it in “site of similar prominence.”

For the past few years, DeKalb County has been the focus of local residents and officials seeking to remove Confederate markers.

DeKalb officials have been trying to relocate the 30-foot-tall obelisk praising Confederate soldiers in downtown Decatur but have had trouble finding a location that would accept the monument.

This legislation would make that relocation more difficult.