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New bill could keep Robert E. Lee statue in downtown Fort Myers

Posted at 11:10 PM, Jan 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-03 10:35:51-05

FORT MYERS, Fla. — House Representative Mike Hill recently introduced a bill to protect war memorials and monuments from getting moved. If passed, it could end a year’s long heated debate over whether the Robert E. Lee statue downtown Fort Myers should stay or move.

Pam Seay, a justice professor at FGCU said House Bill 97 would protect all statues like it across the state. “If this bill is passed, it won’t move at all,” she said.

For now it's called the "Soldiers and Heroes Monuments and Memorials Protection Act." Hill introduced it in mid-December.

The bill would prohibit moving war time statues unless they need to be refurbished. It would also make any crimes against the protected monuments and memorials a third degree felony.

But Seay said the decision should be left up to local governments. “If the community says you know what, we need to keep it here and remember, then, follow your community,” she said. “Chances are the community might want to say let’s put it in a museum, why not?” she said.

The City of Fort Myers Attorney Grant Alley was not available for comment and the NAACP denied requests because of a pending lawsuit against the city to remove the statue. But before the litigation started President James Muwakkil said the Robert E. Lee bust must go.

“This is my nightmare. This is not a symbol of beauty,” he said.

The bill is still in the early stages and Seay said it could change before it comes to a final vote.