Black Louisiana lawmakers condemn Confederate statue bill

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – A day after storming off the Louisiana House floor in protest over a bill protecting Confederate monuments, members of the Legislative Black Caucus said Tuesday that their colleagues showed a lack of leadership by advancing the bill.

Rep. Joseph Bouie, a New Orleans Democrat who is caucus chairman, urged the Senate to strike down Republican Rep. Thomas Carmody’s proposal. The caucus has no plans to retaliate legislatively, however, Bouie said during a news conference.

“Yesterday’s vote was a failure of legislative leadership,” Bouie said. “The members who voted for this said they voted holding their nose, but said this is what their constituents were calling for them to do.”

House Speaker Taylor Barras, a New Iberia Republican who supported the bill, said he’s concerned the issue’s divisiveness could affect other heated debates on the budget, taxes and criminal justice overhaul as the session enters its final weeks ahead of the June 8 adjournment.

“There’s a lot of temperatures raised. It’s an emotional topic,” he said.

Barras said he’s reached out to black caucus members and planned more conversations with them.

“It was an educational process for everyone involved. Hopefully, there is some healing as a result of it because we have some significant work to do,” the House speaker said. “I think members need to continue to communicate and not retreat to our corners. I’m going to work to help that happen.”

The bill, which passed the House on a 65-31 vote, seeks to ban the removal of any plaque, statue or other monument on public property commemorating a historic military figure or event – unless local voters approve the removal in an election.

Ahead of the vote, numerous black lawmakers delivered impassioned speeches, pleading with their colleagues to reject a bill they found so hurtful. Democratic Rep. Pat Smith of Baton Rouge recounted how she had been told to “get over” slavery by one woman during a committee hearing and had since been bombarded by hate-filled emails from white supremacists.

Carmody was the only lawmaker to speak in favor of the measure. He said the bill’s aim is not to maintain Confederate monuments, but rather to let local residents vote on the issue.

Immediately after the proposal passed, every black representative gathered their belongings and walked out of the room. Rep. Ted James of Baton Rouge said he and his colleagues went to a private room downstairs to “calm down” and “regroup.”

Nationally, the debate over Confederate symbols has flared since nine black parishioners were shot to death by an avowed racist at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. New Orleans recently removed two Confederate-era monuments from prominent locations and intends to take down two more. Carmody’s own city of Shreveport has been debating what to do with a Confederate monument in front of the parish’s courthouse.

“I was disappointed to look up at the scoreboard and see how people who I consider friends voted on this – especially after we were able to express to them the personal nature and the offensive nature of this,” said New Orleans Rep. Gary Carter, a Democrat.

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House Bill 71: http://www.legis.la.gov

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