Monument removal bill passes Senate

Published 2:25 pm Thursday, May 9, 2019

To The Leader

AUSTIN, Texas —  It would take an act of the Legislature or a supermajority of a municipal governing body to remove or relocate certain monuments deemed “historically significant” under a Senate bill passed Tuesday.

Author and Conroe Senator Brandon Creighton believes that removing or relocating controversial monuments, often those honoring those who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, is burying history rather than facing it.

“We’ve seen a trend across the nation and the world where controversial monuments are removed or destroyed, often without any input, study, or process,” he said. “I fear that we’ll look back and regret that this was a period where deleting history was more important than learning from it.”

Many members opposed what they see as a measure protecting the glorification of slavery and sedition.  Creighton countered that erasing history could mean that future generations forget the lessons of the past.

“We, as Texans, will face our past head-on, we’ll teach and learn from it, and work forward together for the Texas we all want to see,” said Creighton.

As amended, the bill would create a two-tiered system for monuments based on when they were installed. As defined in the bill, this would include statues, portraits, plaques, seals, symbols and names of streets, buildings, parks, and other areas.

If dedicated at least 25 years ago, altering, relocating or removing the monument would take a supermajority vote of two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature, if the monument lies on state property or a two-thirds vote of a city council or other governing body of the municipality where the monument is situated.

For newer monuments, relocation or removal could be accomplished by a simple majority by a municipal governing body for city or counties.  On state property, newer monuments could be altered, removed or relocated if approved by the governing body or director of the agency that installed it.

Though the bill doesn’t specifically name Confederate monuments, the vast majority of these controversial monuments honor individuals associated with the Confederacy; 31 such monuments have been removed or relocated in Texas since 2015.  Opponents of the measure said these monuments lay open wounds of racial injustice going back hundreds of years.

“Some of the history that our country and our state has seen was so devastating to different people that it’s just intolerable to want to remember and live with,” said Houston Senator Borris Miles.  “We don’t want to keep reliving that.”

Another problem with the bill, said Dallas Senator Royce West, is that the legislation overrides the power of local communities to decide what they want to honor.

“What you’re doing now, is basically saying you want to substitute our judgment here at the Legislature for local communities,” he said.  “Those city councils, commissioners’ courts, etcetera, they’re more diverse now…these various bodies that have more diversity should be in a position to make those decisions.  And if they make the wrong decision, then, just as they got elected, they can be rejected.”

In West’s hometown of Dallas, city leaders voted earlier this year to remove the Confederate War Memorial from the city’s downtown district.

Miles added two amendments to the bill.  One would create an interim committee made up of seven Senators to review the artwork hanging in the Senate chamber, which includes portraits of CSA President Jefferson Davis, General Albert Sidney Johnson and other individuals associated with the Confederacy.  That committee would make recommendations for any paintings to be removed or new works commissioned for the Senate Chamber.

The other amendment would reform the 12-member Historical Representation Advisory Commission, abolished in 2007, to review the historical significance of monuments installed on the Capitol grounds and determine whether any should be removed from display.

Both amendments were adopted without objection.  Should the bill fail to pass the House and become law, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick committed to establishing the committee to review the Senate chamber by the end of the Legislative session.