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What does Alabama law say about monument removal (and why are cities being fined)?

With the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017, the state got very specific about when and how monuments could be removed or relocated.
Credit: TEGNA
The Madison County Commission passed a resolution to remove the Confederate monument from Huntsville's Courthouse Square.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Confederate monuments are front and center in the news. And Alabama, like many other southern states, has monuments in public places from Huntsville to Montgomery.

The call for their removal is growing, but what does it take to actually remove or relocate a monument legally in Alabama?

The age of the monument is a big factor. In the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017, it states that "No architecturally significant building, memorial building, memorial street, or monument which is located on public property and has been so situated for 40 or more years may be relocated, removed, altered, renamed, or otherwise disturbed." Those between 20 and 40 years old may only be disturbed in certain circumstances (waiver).

It doesn't define what kind of building or monuments are included in this...it sets age and purpose as the standards, and specifically states "public property".

Since most Confederate monuments in the state were place more than 40 years ago, and fall under the definition of "A building, structure, park, or other institution, other than a Memorial School, that is located on public property and has been erected for, or named or dedicated in honor of, an event, a person, a group, a movement, or military service,"  there's a question of whether a waiver would even be granted.

READ BELOW: Complete text of Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017

Which brings us to Birmingham. Mayor Randall Woodfin ordered the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument in Linn Park removed after it was vandalized during protests. This brought an anticipated lawsuit from the state of Alabama.

In advance of the statue's removal, Attorney General Steve Marshall said,

"The Alabama Monuments Preservation Act provides a singular avenue for enforcement — the filing of a civil complaint in pursuit of a fine, which the Alabama Supreme Court has determined to be a one-time assessment of $25,000.  The Act authorizes no additional relief.

“Should the City of Birmingham proceed with the removal of the monument in question, based upon multiple conversations I have had today, city leaders understand I will perform the duties assigned to me by the Act to pursue a new civil complaint against the City." 

The decision making power for who violates the law and who should be assessed the fine lies with the Attorney General. The Preservation Act states:

"If the Attorney General determines that an entity exercising control of public property has renamed a memorial school or has relocated, removed, altered, renamed, or otherwise disturbed an architecturally significant building, memorial building, memorial street, or monument from that public property without first obtaining a waiver from the committee as required by this article, or failed to comply with the conditions and instructions issued by the committee upon the grant of a waiver pursuant to this section, the entity shall be fined twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) for each violation. The fine shall be collected by the Attorney General, forwarded by his or her office to the State Treasurer, and deposited into the Alabama State Historic Preservation Fund created in Section 41-9-255."

After the city decided to remove the monument, a lawsuit was filed seeking $25,000 for the violation.

READ BELOW: State of Alabama v. City of Birmingham

Groups around the state are fundraising to try to pay these anticipated fines, even where no lawsuits have been filed.

RELATED: Mobile to pay fine, move Confederate statue permanently

RELATED: Madison County Commission passes resolution to remove Confederate monument

RELATED: Groups call for removal of Confederate statue at Madison Co. Courthouse