Legislation ostensibly driven by the recent controversies regarding historical monuments passed the state House Government Affairs Committee by voice vote Wednesday, but not without significant opposition.
Most talk in the House about the legislation occurred in subcommittee Tuesday, which was held in a room that so often has livestreamed meetings that the General Assembly homepage has a link to it — Room 341 in the Capitol, which is also referred to as the Appropriations Room. However, while a lot of work occurs in subcommittees, they’re rarely broadcast. Out of eight meetings held Tuesday in Room 341, to see six of them, you had to actually be physically present.
State Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, livestreamed the meeting on Facebook, which may well be the only audio and visual record available to the public as to what occurred. Much of the testimony centered around Confederate monuments, though the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 77 — state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga — made a point of saying the legislation protects all monuments. A leader of the state Sons of Confederate Veterans testified, as did people educated in the contemporary history of when these monuments were erected.
Mullis was in the Senate for the debate on House Bill 316 and was unavailable for the committee meeting, so state Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan, presented it. The representatives, in their questions, deftly talked around the the elephant in the room.
State Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, asked, “What is the reason for lines 83 and 84, that does not allow a monument to be relocated to a museum, cemetery or mausoleum?”
Brass said he didn’t know, since it’s not his bill. Committee Chairman Ed Rynders, R-Albany, asked Nguyen if she got her answer from Mullis in subcommittee the day before. She said she did, but that she’s still unclear. State Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, responded.
“The response was, the purpose of lines 78-84 is to allow a local government, or … a state, to move a monument when needed for things,” Fleming said. “An example given yesterday was, like road expansion. The purpose of the language on lines 83 and 84 is because the intent is to allow them to move it to fix something, not to move it to put it in a place where it can’t be seen as prominent as it was when it began.”
State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, who proposed an amendment to the bill Tuesday that failed — and Rynders refused to let the committee take up Wednesday — said she wasn’t pleased with the way the state controls what localities can do with items on local property.
“I think there really is a serious policy consideration that is totally inconsistent with any respect for local control that the state of Georgia tells the city of Decatur what to do with its obelisk on Confederate Monument Day,” Oliver said. The bill moves on to the House Rules Committee.