COLUMBIA - A South Carolina lawmaker said he will try to get a proposal into the state budget that would stop giving state money to a city or county that removes a historical monument without the General Assembly's permission.
Rep. Bill Taylor said he wants to put teeth into the state's monument protection law called the Heritage Act, passed in 2000.
The act is under siege on several fronts. Three people, including the widow of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, are suing - saying the law is unconstitutional and asking the state Supreme Court to take up the case directly.
Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson issued an opinion last month saying the act's requirement that lawmakers must agree by a two-thirds vote to change a street or building name or to alter or move a monument that honors someone from the Civil War or other military conflict is not legal. Wilson did add he thinks the protection portion of the act would remain if a judge agreed with his opinion.
The death earlier this year of George Floyd, occurring after a Minneapolis police officer pinned Floyd down by applying a knee to Floyd's neck, led to demonstrations that saw a number of Civil War monuments being removed across the country, both by governments and protesters.
But the Heritage Act has mostly kept that from happening in South Carolina. One exception was in Charleston, where the city removed a statue of former U.S. Vice President John Calhoun from a downtown park. The city said it owned the statue and it was on private land so it didn't fall under the law. Calhoun was a fierce defender of slavery with a racist view that Blacks were better off owned by other people because they were inferior.
A group called the American Heritage Association held a news conference last weekend in Charleston with Taylor. They are unhappy Charleston wasn't challenged over the Calhoun statue.
Taylor said withholding state money from any other government that breaks the law by removing monuments or changing street or building names is the best way to push back against a movement that is trying to destroy America and erase its history.
"It's time for each of us to stand up, speak up, be bold - protect our monuments and protect our history," said Taylor, a Republican from Aiken.
Several colleges and local governments have already asked the Legislature for permission to remove Civil War monuments or change names of buildings from historical figures they say are racist.
The General Assembly likely won't address the issue during a September special session.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Jennifer Pinckney and two others, said she, and not lawmakers, should have the right to make alterations to monuments to her late husband, a state senator and pastor at Emanuel AME church in Charleston who was killed along with eight other church members in a racist shooting in 2015 that led directly to the Confederate flag's removal from the Statehouse.
The law, which did not get a two-thirds majority when it passed in 2000, unconstitutionally binds future legislatures to its rules. It also violates the ability of cities and counties to rule themselves, according to the lawsuit filed July 10.
"The Heritage Act created a clear conflict in authority and undermines local governments' ability to carry out their duties and obligations to their local constituencies on local matters - including local decisions for peace, order and good government," the lawsuit said.
Joining Pinckney in the suit are former state Sen. Kay Patterson, a Democrat from Columbia who said he should be able to change historical markers honoring him and Columbia City Council member Howard Duvall, who said the Heritage Act infringes on his ability to govern his own city as he sees fit.
The state Supreme Court has not decided whether it will take up the case directly.
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