A proposal to create the first slavery memorial in Florida unanimously passed the state House on Friday with roaring applause — but its prospects in the Senate are uncertain after one committee chairman stalled the legislation over a “philosophical objection” to the concept.
Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley — the chairman of the Senate Government Oversight & Accountability Committee who is known for his conservative positions — never scheduled a hearing to consider the Senate’s version of a bill calling for a Florida Slavery Memorial near the Capitol in Tallahassee.
Because of that, the fate of HB 27 now hinges on a rare procedural override that President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, could try to execute.
I have a discomfort about memorializing slavery. … I would like to take it in a more positive direction than a memorial to slavery.
Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala
House members Friday overwhelmingly embraced the idea for a slavery memorial, proposed in that chamber by Miami Democratic Rep. Kionne McGhee.
“I am literally — and many of us in this room, we are literally 7,923 weeks out of slavery,” McGhee, who is black, said on the House floor before the vote. “As we gather here at this defining moment in this Capitol … this is perhaps one of the most joyous moments in my life to know that the journeys that my forefathers went through were not lost.”
He earlier told reporters: “Florida represents the portrait of what America looks like and what America can be like, so when people come here and they see we’ve taken the lead on recognizing the contributions that were made by those that were enslaved against their will — in excess of 60,000 individuals — they feel comfortable knowing they’re in a great place.”
Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami
Kristen M. Clark
McGhee’s bill also earned unanimous, bipartisan approval through all three House committees that considered it this spring. Meanwhile, the Senate companion — SB 1722, by St. Petersburg Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson — languished without a hearing. (Rouson’s bill was among 28 assigned to Baxley’s government operations committee this year that also weren’t heard.)
McGhee noted that a “handful of people” felt “more time is needed” before a memorial is built. Rouson told the Herald/Times that Baxley, specifically, had “some philosophical objection” to the proposal.
Baxley said Friday he wants “to celebrate people. I don’t want to celebrate defeat.” He said a memorial recognizing slavery would be too negative.
I am literally — and many of us in this room, we are literally 7,923 weeks out of slavery.
Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami
“I would rather celebrate overcoming the heartbreak of slavery. I wouldn’t want to build a memorial to child abuse; I wouldn’t want to build a memorial to sexual abuse,” Baxley said. “I have a discomfort about memorializing slavery. … I would like to take it in a more positive direction than a memorial to slavery.”
McGhee and Rouson’s legislation calls for lawmakers “to recognize the fundamental injustices, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery” — but also “to honor the nameless and forgotten men, women and children who have gone unrecognized for their undeniable and weighty contributions to the United States.”
Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala
Baxley said that language is “too loose and not directed at honoring the people we should honor.”
Recognizing — and apologizing for — past injustices in Florida has been a prominent theme this session.
In recent days, the Legislature formally apologized to the children killed and tortured at a state reform school in north Florida, and also to the families of four black men wrongly accused of raping a white woman almost 70 years ago, who were then tortured, murdered or unjustly imprisoned.
The slavery memorial still has a narrow chance at being approved this year. McGhee and Rouson both said they’re talking to “the powers of the Senate” to make that happen.
As with any bill that passes only one chamber, the presiding officer of the other chamber — in this case, Negron — could bring the House-approved bill to the floor or route it to a Senate committee first for swift consideration before the scheduled end of session on May 5.
Negron was not immediately available for comment Friday. His spokeswoman, Katie Betta, said because the Senate bill wasn’t heard in committee, bringing the House bill to the floor would require unanimous support from the 40-member chamber.
But Baxley won’t say whether he would object if Negron tried to send HB 27 straight to the floor. “I don’t control the agenda,” he said, but added: “It’s kind of late in the game when it hasn’t been heard in any committee over here.”
Baxley’s refusal to hear the Senate bill did not go unrecognized by the House.
Prior to the floor vote, Kionne and Coral Springs Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz both thanked House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, for supporting the measure.
“We’re hearing this bill, and there are issues obviously in the other chamber where this bill sits,” Moskowitz said. “I didn’t want that to be unsaid … and I didn’t want it to be unsaid to know that we did the right thing.”
The bill directs the state Department of Management Services to develop a design and cost-estimate for a formal slavery memorial in Tallahassee.
The Capitol Complex — which includes the current Capitol, the Old Capitol and adjacent office buildings for House and Senate members — already has several memorials on its grounds. Those include monuments honoring veterans, law enforcement officers and women and one recognizing the Holocaust.