Kentucky House backs giving lawmakers authority over statues in Capitol Rotunda

The Kentucky House has passed a bill that would give lawmakers authority over what statues are installed or removed from the state Capitol's Rotunda

Bruce Schreiner
Friday 01 March 2024 20:03 GMT

Kentucky lawmakers would claim authority over what statues are installed or removed from the state Capitol's Rotunda under a bill passed Friday by the GOP-led House, a move the bill sponsor said has nothing to do with the removal of a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis four years ago.

Republican state Rep. David Hale said his legislation is forward looking amid preparations to renovate Kentucky's statehouse and "has no reflection on what has been done in the past.”

The debate turned testy when Democratic Rep. Josie Raymond tried asking Hale if the bill could be used to restore the statue of a “racist, slaver and secessionist like Jefferson Davis” or someone as “equally reprehensible.” Her question was ruled out of order and the House vote followed immediately.

The bill passed 77-17 to advance to the Senate, where Republicans also have an overwhelming majority.

In an interview afterward, Hale said his legislation would not allow lawmakers to act on their own to install or remove a statue or other permanent Rotunda display. Instead, they would respond to recommendations from the state Historic Properties Advisory Commission, he said.

Hale also said the proposal was not a response to the Davis statue's removal.

“I have no intention of making any kind of a request to bring anything back that’s gone,” he said.

The bill comes nearly four years after the Davis statue was removed from the ornate Capitol Rotunda — a popular place for rallies when the legislature is in session. For decades, the Davis statue stood several feet away from a statue of Abraham Lincoln — his Civil War adversary and the president who issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Both were Kentucky natives.

The Lincoln statue is placed in the center of the Rotunda. The corner where the Davis statue previously stood is empty.

Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear led the push for the Davis statue's removal and the Historic Properties Advisory Commission voted to take it out of the Rotunda. Beshear even had a ceremonial role at the removal, pushing the button to a rig that lifted the statue off its pedestal. The Davis statue is now at a state historic site in southern Kentucky near where Davis was born.

The Davis statue's removal from the Kentucky statehouse came amid reignited efforts to take down Confederate monuments around the U.S. after the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police.

The Kentucky bill would require legislative approval before any statue, monument or artwork could be installed or removed from permanent display in the Rotunda. The Historic Properties Advisory Commission could submit proposals to lawmakers but it would have no authority to add or remove any such permanent Rotunda display without legislative approval. Commission members would be liable to pay all removal or reinstallation costs if they violated terms of the bill.

During the House debate, Democrats called it another GOP effort to weaken the Democratic governor's authority, since the governor appoints commission members. Other critics of the bill said the current process works well and said it should not be up to lawmakers to decide what's displayed in the Rotunda.

Rep. Derrick Graham, the top-ranking House Democrat, referred to the Davis statue in opposing the bill.

“I know exactly why this bill is being presented before this body," he said. “And the governor did the right thing when he did it.”

Hale said the Capitol belongs to Kentucky citizens and that the lawmakers elected by those residents should “have a say-so” regarding what's on permanent display in the Rotunda.


The legislation is House Bill 513.

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