Alabama Considers Bill Increasing Penalties for Removing Historic Statues

Cities that remove, alter, or disturb a protected monument could be fined $5,000 per day

A proposed bill in Alabama would increase previously established penalties for cities and counties that remove historic monuments.

The Memorial Preservation Act prohibits the relocation, removal, alteration, renaming, or other disturbance of any monument located on public property that has been in place for 40 years or more.

Cities or counties can apply for waivers if the monument they wish to move or alter has been in place for less than 40 years but more than 20 years.

If “an entity exercising control of public property” had moved, altered, or disturbed without obtaining a waiver, it can be fined $25,000 for each violation according to the Alabama Historical Commission.

The fines are to be collected by the Attorney General and then deposited in the Alabama State Historic Preservation Fund by the State Treasurer.

Senator Gerald Allen of Tuscaloosa, who originally proposed the bill in 2017, is now proposing that the fine be changed to $5,000 for each day that the monument is not restored.

In his proposal, Allen has also asked the state to commission a statue of the late Congressman John Lewis in honor of his civil rights work. The life-sized monument would be installed at the southeastern entrance of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

The amendment was approved by Alabama’s Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on Feb. 10. The committee also approved a bill that would make damaging a historic monument during a riot or unlawful assembly a felony offense that carries a 20-year prison sentence. Both bills will now be considered by the state Senate.

While Senator Arthur Orr said the penalties could be too severe, he agreed to discuss all proposed amendments to the bill prior to the Senate’s vote.

Senator Linda Coleman-Madison, who abstained from voting, has proposed amending the bill so that the fine amounts to $1,000 per day after the monument is removed.

The bill has already had an impact on local governments who have been fined for tampering or removing monuments. 

In June of 2020, the city of Birmingham removed a 115-year-old obelisk placed in honor of Confederate soldiers. Attorney General Steve Marchall sued the city for violating the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act.

The city of Mobile paid the fine after the 2020 removal of a statue of Confederate Navy Admiral Raphael Semmes from its downtown.

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