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Darryl Rouson files legislation to ban Confederate flag on public property in Florida

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St. Petersburg House Democrat Darryl Rouson has filed legislation (HB 243) that would ban the display of Confederate flags and symbols on publicly owned or leased property. It will serve as a companion to Orlando Democrat Geraldine Thompson’s bill in the state Senate.

“I can understand people wanting to honor the legacy of their Southern history, but when history and symbolism to others becomes distasteful we should be sensitive to it, and reconsider how we honor history,” the Pinellas County legislator said on Friday.

The legislation calls for prohibiting the display of flags & emblems associated with Confederate States of America on any publicly owned or leased property. It also would allow injunctive relief for interested parties who file civil action against governments who display the flag on public property.

The move comes three months after a racial terrorist attack in South Carolina  reignited debate about the merits of publicly displaying the flag. Dylann Roof has been charged with nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder in the slayings that took the lives of nine church members. He was commonly photographed with the Confederate flag and police say he intended to incite a race war.

Currently, there are at least two counties in Florida where the Confederate flag still flies proudly on government property.

In Walton County, the County Commission voted in June to remove the rebel battle flag that had flown near a monument on the courthouse lawn in DeFuniak Springs. They voted to replace the battle flag with another banner of the Confederate States of America, with a circle of stars on a blue field at the left and three horizontal bars of red and white on the right two-thirds of the flag. The change has not satisfied critics.

In Marion County, commissioners voted unanimously in July to continue to fly the Confederate flag at the county’s government complex in Ocala. That vote came two weeks after the interim county administrator had the flag removed after the South Carolina tragedy. An estimated crowd of 5,000 people participated in a rally celebrating the choice to maintain the flag’s presence in July, the largest such rally for the flag this summer, according to The Washington Post. The Post reports that there have been 173 pro-Confederate flag rallies held across the country since Charleston.

“The symbolism of the Confederate flag conjures up pain to a lot of people,” says Rouson, an attorney who at one time served as president of the St. Petersburg N.A.A.C.P. branch. “It symbolizes discrimination to a lot of people, and I’m not one to tell people how to handle their own personal property or intrude into their private lives, but certainly government of the people, by the people and for the people should be more considerate about what it allows to be displayed on public taxpayer-supported property.”

The legislation is hardly a slam dunk in the Legislature. As we reported last month, Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley is chair of the Local and Federal Affairs Committee in the state House, where the bill would likely be introduced.

“It’s unfortunate that we’ve gotten tied up in this discussion of cultural cleansing,” Baxley told The News Service of Florida last month. “The problem is once you start moving on this, then it goes to monuments, then it goes to roads, then it goes to disturbing graves.”

For the record, Thompson says her bill in the Senate has nothing to do with monuments.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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