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House GOP punishes Memphis for removing Confederate statues

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  The Tennessee House has passed a $37.5 billion state budget, but not before making a change intended to punish the City of Memphis.

The new budget includes millions of additional dollars for education, opioid addiction treatment, and school safety. But the Republican majority in the House also added a last minute amendment that takes $250,000 out of the budget.

GOP lawmakers passed the measure to punish the Memphis City Council for removing three Confederate monuments from city parks last year. The $250,000 stripped from the budget was earmarked to help fund the city’s bicentennial celebrations next year.

The move triggered heated debate on the House floor. Memphis Democratic Antonio Parkinson told lawmakers it was time to have an “honest discussion” about race.

“Let me not mince words. This is the most vile, racist…(boos and desk pounding heard) You can boo all you want, but let’s call it for what it is.”

Republican Rep. Gerald McCormick countered the issue was the city’s failure to follow state law.

“The City of Memphis, like any other city in the nation needs to, if not obey the law, at least obey the spirit of the law and the law was very clear. They got smart lawyers to figure out how to wiggle around the law.”

In 2017 the Memphis City Council used a loophole in state law to get rid of the Confederate memorials by selling the property they stood on to a non-profit group. That group promptly removed the statues.

Republican lawmakers this session have introduced at least five pieces of legislation intended to punish Memphis or close the loophole. So far, none have passed.