By Kristen M. Clark
A polarizing symbol is disappearing from the Florida Senate, after senators endorsed a proposal Monday to remove the Confederate battle flag from their official seal.
Senators weren't expected to take up the issue until the Legislature's 2016 session begins in January, but Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said he wanted to get it out of the way during the special session on redistricting so that staff could begin transitioning to a new emblem as soon as possible.
The icon is visible throughout the Capitol, from the large bronze seal in the Senate chamber to the lapel pins senators wear and the stationery they write on.
But the switch isn't likely to be imminent. Because of concerns raised by some senators, the seal could undergo further changes in the short term beyond just removing the Confederate battle flag, Gardiner said.
"We want to make sure all the members are comfortable with the decision as to what the Senate seal's going to look like," Gardiner said. "The seal may change some more. It was good that we, at least, made the changes out of respect for those that had a concern."
The issue is to remove this painful symbol of oppression and suppression that black people endured during the era of slavery in this country and in this state.
During Monday's discussion, Gardiner was forced to postpone the vote for 30 minutes, after Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, questioned why other alternative designs weren't being proposed.
The new design simply replaces the rebel flag with the Florida state flag in an array of banners that also include flags of the United States, France, Spain and Great Britain.
"(We should) look at all the flags on the seal," Bradley argued. "There were things that occurred in the name of some of these flags that history has now looked upon as being abhorrent."
Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, of Tampa, told reporters that she was "astounded that someone would take this opportunity to do it another way" and that those who have other suggestions should broach them with the Rules Committee as she did.
Joyner asked Gardiner to have senators review the seal, following the racially motivated church shooting in Charleston, S.C., this summer. The Rules Committee earlier this month unanimously supported removing the Confederate battle flag from the seal.
"Removing all the other flags, in my opinion, is not the answer," she said. "The issue is to remove this painful symbol of oppression and suppression that black people endured during the era of slavery in this country and in this state."
Gardiner acknowledged only a few senators were prepared to discuss the issue Monday, but "it was not our intent to catch people off guard."
(We should) look at all the flags on the seal... There were things that occurred in the name of some of these flags that history has now looked upon as being abhorrent.
Monday's vote used a procedural method that didn't require senators to record "yes" or "no" votes. Because no one voiced objections, the seal change was approved.
The Confederate battle flag had been a part of the seal since 1972, although Senate Rules Committee Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said "there's no record of why the (five) flags on the seal were chosen," as 16 flags have flown over the state in its history.
"If we're going to have a seal, we should be dealing with sovereign nations that are -- in fact -- legitimate, sovereign nations," Simmons said, adding it is "most appropriate" to include the state flag on the Senate seal.
There's no timeline or cost estimate available for changing the seal, but Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta previously said the expense should be "minimal."
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