TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — New Florida House legislation would block local governments from removing Confederate monuments from public property, as many have done in the wake of the 2015 Charleston church shooting that helped spawn a national backlash against the statues.

  • New bill could block local governments from removing Confederate statues
  • Bill called 'Soldiers' and Heroes' Monuments and Memorials Protection Act'
  • Not all Republicans support preserving Confederate symbols

Under the 'Soldiers' and Heroes' Monuments and Memorials Protection Act' filed by Rep. Mike Hill (R-Pensacola), statues honoring Confederate generals and soldiers could only be removed temporarily for refurbishment or relocated to places of "equal prominence."

Most of the monuments were erected in parks and public squares during the post-Civil War Jim Crow era, when white grievances about the effects of Reconstruction were aired publicly, and sometimes violently.

Last year, the Orlando City Commission voted to relocate a 'Johnny Reb' statue that stood guard over Lake Eola. Similarly, Lakeland leaders have decided to take down a Confederate statue in Munn Park.

The votes followed a decision by the Florida Legislature to remove Florida's 90-year-old statue of Confederate Gen. Kirby Smith in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall. The statue is being replaced with a bust of civil rights pioneer Mary McLeod Bethune.

"Just because those we honor are replaced by future people doesn't mean that the person who was there previously was any less brave or any less valiant," then-Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami) said during the House's debate over the Smith statue's fate.

But as the statue removal forces have grown in prominence, so too have those committed to preserving the history of the Confederacy, a vanquished force that nonetheless left behind an enduring legacy in the South.

Touring Florida's Historic Capitol Thursday, Gary Carpenter lamented that much of that history is in jeopardy of being lost due to modern day cultural sensitivities.

"They should really read about them, look at them, understand what they meant, and they should just leave them alone and let them be," Carpenter said. "But if they have to pass a bill, so be it."

To be sure, not all Republicans march in lock step on the issue of preserving Confederate symbols. An overwhelming majority of House Republicans voted with Democrats to remove the Smith statue, and many will likely oppose the new bill.

But the debate is sure to be influenced by the party's most powerful voice: President Trump.

"I wonder, is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?" Trump asked as prominent Confederate statues were being removed last year. "You know, you really do have to ask yourself, ‘Where does it stop?’"