Alabama Senate Committee holds public hearing on bill updating Memorial Preservation Act
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday held a public hearing on a bill by State Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) that would enhance the penalty provision of the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act.
This comes in the wake of the Alabama Supreme Court upholding the act and ruling that the City of Birmingham violated said law by obstructing the base of a monument to a Confederate soldier in Linn Park with a large plywood screen.
As a result, the City was fined $25,000. However, as emphasized by Mayor Randall Woodfin on Tuesday, the law as written only hands down a onetime fine per violation. The City of Birmingham maintains that the law does not actually require them to take the plywood screen down.
@randallwoodfin opens up on the latest debate over the Confederate Monument at BHM’s Linn Park. He says @ALSupremeCt ruling on barrier does not mandate its removal. @WVTM13 pic.twitter.com/XgHmj8e17a
— Jon Paepcke (@JonWVTM13) February 11, 2020
In a concurring opinion in recent months, Justice Mike Bolin suggested the penalty provision of the act be made stricter so this kind of situation does not occur again in which a city intentionally violates the law and opts to pay a onetime fine while staying in violation of the act for years.
Allen’s legislation (SB 127) to update the act, which he originally sponsored, would adjust the penalty provision so that a $10,000 per day fine would be imposed on violators rather than the onetime $25,000 fine.
Former State Rep. Earl Hilliard, Jr. spoke in opposition to SB 127 on behalf of Woodfin’s office during the public hearing. He was the only speaker during the public hearing.
Hilliard argued that it should be a matter of local control to decide its own monuments’ fate; Hilliard also said that the majority of its residents find the monument in Linn Park specifically “offensive” and that the state is wrong to force them to live with it.
State Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham) also called the monument in Linn Park offensive and said SB 127 would take the Memorial Preservation Act “from bad to worse.” She said that Birmingham aside, smaller cities in the state could not afford to pay the “punitive” fines under Allen’s updated legislation.
Coleman-Madison further suggested that SB 127 is really about “racial division” rather than preserving history.
State Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) also opposed the bill, worrying it could potentially be too broad in what is protected under the act.
The bill does additionally update the process for localities to petition a commission for a waiver for individual memorials under the act. State Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier (D-Selma) advised she supports this provision but opposes SB 127 overall. She summarized that history should be preserved, but with consideration to how that history affects each respective community.
SB 127 was carried over to the call of the committee chair after the public hearing.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn