AUSTIN — The Texas Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would make it more difficult to remove Confederate and other historical monuments.
“We’ve seen a trend across the nation and the world where controversial monuments are removed and destroyed,” Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, said while introducing his Senate Bill 1663. “I fear that we’ll look back and regret that this was a period where deleting history was more important than learning from it.”
He added: “My bill today is simply a process for the state to rely on when considering removing or altering a monument in Texas. ... We have a real solution in this bill that doesn’t include hiding from our past.”
The bill passed by a party line vote of 19-12 after more than four hours of often emotional debate Tuesday afternoon. It must be approved by the Senate once more before it heads to the Texas House for further debate.
Currently, city councils and county officials can vote to remove local historical monuments, as they have recently in the city of Dallas. Creighton’s bill would require two-thirds of these local governing bodies to approve the removal, relocation or alteration of any historical monument, or name change of any street, bridge, park or area, in place for longer than 25 years.
Creighton’s bill would also apply to memorials and buildings on state property, such as the Texas Capitol and public colleges and universities. Instead of boards of regents or state agency governing boards, the power to make those calls would shift to the Legislature, requiring a vote of two-thirds of both chambers to approve changing older monuments on state land.
During the heated debate Tuesday, Democrats urged Creighton to abandon the bill.
“We strive to be better than our ancestors. But that’s not going to negate the fact that our ancestors didn’t have this kind of relationship,” said Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, who is black. Describing Creighton as his “personal friend,” Miles added: “There was a time I would go to jail for challenging you as I am challenging you today in this diplomatic environment. As your brother I’m telling you the bill that you’re carrying ... is disgraceful to myself.”
Creighton filed the bill after a spate of Confederate monuments were removed across the country. The Dallas City Council voted last year to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park in Oak Lawn.
Officials at the University of Texas at Austin also decided to take down a statue of Lee, as well as two other Confederate leaders, in 2017, and a Confederate plaque erected in the Texas Capitol during the civil rights era was removed just months ago by the governing board of the State Preservation Board.
Creighton’s bill would have changed the processes for removing all three of these memorials. A supermajority of city councils would be required to remove a monument like the Lee statue, and lawmakers would have the power to remove historical markers older than 25 years at colleges, universities and on at the Texas Capitol.
Several changes were made to the bill during debate.
As originally written, Creighton’s bill would have totally stripped local officials’ power to change or remove historical monuments in place longer than 25 years. But he accepted an amendment from Amarillo Republican Sen. Kel Seliger to delete this requirement and replace it with the provision allowing the monument changes to be approved by a supermajority of the local governing board.
This significant change was approved by a vote of 18-13 with six Republicans, including Seliger, voting in favor: Joan Huffman of Houston, Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, Charles Schwertner of Georgetown and Larry Taylor of Friendswood.
Creighton also allowed Miles to amend the bill to create a seven-person committee that will study the historical significance and relevance of the artwork displayed in the Senate chamber and make recommendations for changes. Miles had pointed out that a painting of Confederate President Jefferson Davis hangs prominently in the chamber. That amendment was approved unanimously.
Additional changes to the bill could be made before it’s finally passed and sent to the Texas House. The legislative session ends May 27.