Florida Legislature to Increase Vandalism Penalties for Veteran Memorials

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Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) is currently serving his first year in the Florida State Senate seat for Sarasota, but he has ambitiously launched a flurry of bills since taking office. Most of these bills were gun laws, shot down by Senate President Pro Tempore Aniteres Flores. Now, however, he is advancing legislation that is swiftly making its way through the senate in tandem with a companion bill introduced by Rep. Brad Drake (R-Eucheeanna) in the Florida House. Rep. Drake’s and Sen. Steube’s bills seek to make vandals think twice about defacing a veteran’s monument.

As it stands according to Rep. Drake, “Criminal mischief that damages a church, a public telephone, or sexually violent predator facility constitutes a third-degree felony.” The significance of this, however, is that this makes it far more costly to deface a public telephone than it is to deface a veteran’s monument. The former is a third-degree felony, yet the latter only qualifies as a second-degree misdemeanor. Drake continues:

“That’s the current law. This bill, H.B. 529, makes it a third-degree felony to willfully and maliciously injure, damage, or deface a memorial, which honors or commemorates a soldier, a military organization or unit, a first responder, or an astronaut.”

Rep. Drake’s bill has garnered the profound respect and support of two notable veterans—Kelly Crocker and Seber Newsome III. Crocker is a property owner in Leon County as well as a native Floridian and a voter. A member of Veterans of Foreign Wars, he explained that vandalism in this regard has become rampant. “There were about twenty gravestones damaged in Quincy in Gadsden County, Florida. We’ve got to put the brakes on this.”

Seber Newsome III lives in Yulee, and not only is he a veteran but his father and great-grandfather were also veterans. His father fought in World War II on Omaha Beach. Newsome himself has made his opinions known a plethora of issues pertaining to the Confederate Veteran, too, and he spoke in 2016 as a representative of the Save Southern Heritage Florida organization in opposition to a bill that threatened to replace a Confederate general’s statue in D.C. Now, Newsome speaks up once more on behalf of veterans everywhere:

“Monuments all over the state have been vandalized in recent years. I have many pictures here of them being vandalized, causing thousands and thousands of dollars’ worth of damage: World War II monuments, my father’s monuments vandalized, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War, even the 9/11 Monument was vandalized. […] And the penalties right now for vandalizing these monuments is just a slap on the wrist.”

Newsome and Crocker are both passionate about this legislative discrepancy and are eager to see lawmakers make a change. That’s why they support Rep. Brad Drake’s bill publicly. This bill increases penalties substantially, and as such, it is expected to serve as a more-than-adequate deterrent against further vandalism. Drake explained his motivation more than aptly as well. “Those that give their life for this country and pay the ultimate sacrifice,” Drake said, “I think that they should be respected and that there should be more deference given to those than to a telephone booth.”