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Haslam signs law to protect historic statues

Xavier Smith • May 24, 2018 at 5:01 PM

Gov. Bill Haslam recently signed into law a bill that protects historical monuments and properties in response to the removal of statues in Memphis last year.

The legislation adds to the state’s Heritage Protection Act, which requires a waiver from the Tennessee Historical Commission before the removal of any statues, monuments or historical markers.

Memphis officials circumvented the act in December when it sold two public parks to Greenspace Inc. for $1,000 each with the understanding the group would continue to operate the land as parks. The sale allowed the private entity to remove the statues – Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis ­– from the lands.

The historic commission denied the city’s waiver request to remove the statues prior to the sale of the lands, and the sale to Greenspace circumvented that law because private land is exempt from the law.

The new addition to the Heritage Protection Act prohibits the sale or transfer of a memorial or public property that contains an historic monument without a waiver from the Tennessee Historical Commission.

Additionally, any entity that violates the law would not receive grants administered by the Historical Commission and the Department of Economic and Community Development for five years.

The addition is a response to the Memphis situation, which drew criticism from several legislators and prompted a last-minute amendment to remove the $250,000, which would have been used for the city’s bicentennial budget, from the state’s annual budget.

Amendment sponsor Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, said he pushed for the amendment because the removal of the monuments was done against the legislature’s wishes.

Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, compared the city’s removal of the statues to ISIS, expressing discontent that the state couldn’t penalize the city “in the tune of millions of dollars.”

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