STATUE PROTECTORS: Rep. Mark Lowery (left) and Sen. Mark Johnson

A House committee this morning failed to approve the bill aimed at preventing any government from altering, moving or removing Confederate monuments.

SB 515 by Rep. Mark Johnson (R-Ferndale) pre-empted local control of any historical monument, but it was transparently a response to recent controversy and removal of Confederate memorials in other states. None has been attempted in Arkansas.

Said Johnson, “Our heritage is under attack.” He invoked ISIS and the Taliban. But he also noted removal of Christopher Columbus statues, as well as the Confederate removals.

The cumbersome bill provided an appeal to a state commission. Johnson contended this was a “safety valve” for legitimate requests. Speakers for the bill suggested monuments to veterans of World War II and Vietnam might be removed or their efforts unacknowledged and the monuments needed to be protected. The committee also heard from the Daughters of the War of 1812, which placed a monument to that war on the Capitol grounds early in the 20th century.

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Some technical objections were raised to the bill, including by the Arkansas Municipal League, which also noted that criminal law already provides penalties for damage to monuments.

Committee Chair Dwight Tosh ruled the bill had received a do-pass on a voice vote, but it failed on the roll call, with a number of members of the committee not present on a vote that required 11 of the 20 committee members.

An amendment was added to remove a reference to street names. But it retained statues, plaques, school names, flag displays and buildings.

So this legislature preserved a symbol of slavery on the state flag but at least didn’t throw up a roadblock to a local government that might object to venerating the cause to preserve slavery. If there be such a place in Arkansas.