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Bill that requires approval from Idaho Legislature to remove monuments passes in House

Politics

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Robert E. Lee, left, is featured in one of the stained glass windows at the Cathedral of the Rockies in Boise. The church is removing the image. | Courtesy Preservation Idaho

BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Cities may soon need the Legislature’s permission to remove monuments or rename a building named after a historical figure.

House members in a 51-19 vote approved a measure that would require individuals or local jurisdictions to seek approval from the Legislature before removing a monument or renaming anything that uses the name of a historical figure.

The measure, House Bill 90, would require approval from lawmakers via a resolution for anyone who wants to remove a monument or rename something that mentions a historical figure.

Rep. Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden, who sponsored the bill, said Tuesday “the decision of whether or not to permanently remove a historically important monument or memorial is important to everyone in our state,” not just the communities who live near it, and urged legislators to “protect” history.

The legislation comes after many cities moved swiftly to take down Confederate monuments to avoid violence or public endangerment the past couple of years. In Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, violence erupted after white supremacists showed up to protest the city’s plan to remove a monument of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Virginia repealed its law that preempted cities from removing Confederate monuments in 2020.

In Idaho, some gave examples of sites named after Lee, such as the Robert E. Lee Campground or Robert E. Lee Creek. One of Boise’s largest churches, the Cathedral of the Rockies, removed a stained-glass window featuring Lee last summer, part of a wave of such action across the country after protests erupted over the death of George Floyd and other African Americans at the hands of police.

The bill would seize local control from any individual, entity or jurisdiction — such as a school district or city — that wanted to remove a controversial monument or marker, or rename something that was dedicated to a historical figure.

Okuniewicz in a committee pointed out of state to make his case, citing an example in San Francisco, where a school district voted to rename 42 schools that were dedicated and named after people some said were associated with slavery or colonization — George Washington among them.

LOCAL CONTROL FOR COMMUNITIES

Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, said communities should make those decisions for themselves, and that “government is best when it’s closest to the people.”

Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, gave the example of Chinese Peak in Bannock County. The mountain had been named a racial slur for Chinese people up until 2001, which he had to explain to his Chinese American sister-in-law, Ruchti said on the House floor.

Ruchti said it was not representative of Pocatello’s values and believes it’s up to the community to make these decisions.

“It was embarrassing,” Ruchti said. “It’s a community decision to change these names. It’s a community that wrestles with these concepts, these ideas. It’s a community that has these discussions.”

Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, also gave the example of a painting that portrays a Native American lynching at a University of Idaho building.

“Should they be coming to us for that?” McCrostie said.

Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, criticized racial justice protesters seek “to erase anything that is less than perfect.”

“Nobody wants to see derogatory terms used or see inappropriate behavior condoned,” Young said. “That is not the problem this bill seeks to address.”

The bill will now need approval from the Senate.

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