Memphis Confederate statue move brings retaliation legislation

At least four bills have been filed by Republican state legislators in response to removal of Confederate statues from former Memphis city parks, including a measure that would allow the state to seize designated historic monuments from private owners, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The bill, dubbed the Tennessee Historic Properties Act and sponsored by Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesboro and Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains (HB2146), would greatly expand the state’s eminent domain powers, allowing the state to seize and take part ownership of any privately owned monuments once under a 2013 state historic preservation law.

The legislation would also force the city that owned the statues to cover the state’s expenses from the seizure and threatens city officials who sell statues or do anything “negatively impacting the historic recognition of such property” with “ouster from office.”

The legislation is one of the more punitive bills introduced since Memphis Greenspace Inc. secretly bought Health Sciences and Fourth Bluff parks — as well as statues of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, President Jefferson Davis, and Capt. J. Harvey Mathes — from the city of Memphis for $1,000 per park and removed the statues.

One bill (HB2131), sponsored by Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss of Jonesboro and Sen. Janice Bowling of Tullahoma, both Republicans, would withhold state funding to any city that sells or removes a statue after denial of a waiver from the Tennessee Historical Commission. The bill wouldn’t apply retroactively to the city — but could be a major deterrent to another sale if the courts nullify the agreement with Greenspace.

Another couple Republicans, Rep. Steve McDaniel of Parkers Crossroads and Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, proposed legislation (HB1572) to create a historic cemetery advisory committee for the Tennessee Historical Commission, expanding the commission’s control over land used as a cemetery — possibly including Health Sciences Park, where Forrest and his wife are buried under his statue’s still-in-place pedestal.

Rep. Dawn White of Murfreesboro and Sen. Mark Pody of Lebanon, also both Republicans, are pushing for another bill (HB2554) forbidding cities from selling or donating memorials “for the purpose of circumventing the requirement to obtain a waiver,” which would have applied to Memphis. The legislation doesn’t set any punishments.

Except for McDaniel, all of those lawmakers represent counties east of Nashville.

Mixed in with the slew of last-minute filings was a bill (HB1878) from Sen. Sara Kyle and Rep. Larry Miller, both Memphis Democrats, who are hoping to allow removal of monuments with majority approval by a municipality’s governing body. The Memphis City Council voted unanimously several times in favor of removing the monuments leading up to the sale only to have its waiver blocked twice by the Historical Commission.

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