Fentrice Driskell receives bipartisan praise as abandoned cemeteries bill passes House committee
Although there was no debate, there was a lot of talk on Tuesday as a representative. Driskell FenceAbandoned African American Cemetery Bill Passes Unanimously House Government Operations Subcommittee.
The law project (HB 1215) would create a Historic Cemetery Program within the Division of Historic Resources to coordinate efforts to find, repair, restore, and maintain abandoned African American cemeteries. It also creates an Advisory Council of Historic Cemeteries and makes it easier for the state to preserve rediscovered cemeteries.
Driskell drafted the bill based on a report of the task force on abandoned african american cemeteries. Driskell served and helped start the working group. She and Sen. Janet Cruz sponsored a bill last year to create the task force following a 2019 Tampa Bay Times Survey who helped uncover a forgotten cemetery under a city-owned housing estate. This led to the rediscovery of several separate cemeteries in Florida intended for black residents.
“Historically, African American cemeteries were not subject to the regulations, maintenance and other efforts necessary to maintain the dignity of the deceased compared to their counterparts,” Driskell said. “Additionally, the land on which African-American cemeteries were located was sometimes sold without any consideration for those buried there. We now find our chance as a state to continue to work together to honor those who have been forgotten and often degraded.
The bill passed the committee without a single “no” vote. But not before committee members on both sides of the aisle praised the Tampa Democrat.
“When we were made aware of the abandoned cemeteries, particularly in Tampa Bay, in our area, I wasn’t even elected yet, and you worked on it right away,” the Democratic representative said. Michele Rayner said. “It’s a very difficult task because there are so many abandoned cemeteries.”
Republican Representative from Palm Beach Rick Roth praised Driskell for his perseverance. Driskell took the fight as soon as graveyards began to be discovered.
“It’s a bittersweet journey you’re on,” he said. “There are a lot of hard things you learn. You deal with a lot of difficult issues. You are dealing with people who have been hurt and people who have been neglected. And we just want to thank you for the great job you’re doing.
Driskell has a growing reputation for respect and support among his colleagues. Last year, she won an important victory in negotiate passage of police reform bills aimed at greater accountability and transparency to improve relations between the police and the public, particularly within the black community. Democrats had already seen stronger resistance to carrying out these reforms.
representing Laurent McClure, a Republican representing East Hillsborough County, said her work was eye-opening. And the Democratic member of the committee, Rep. Kevin Chambliss says the work will help all.
“What I love about this effort is that even though it was a task force effort focused on African American cemeteries, the work product that will come out of it will be able to help all the people of Florida,” he said. “I can really appreciate that. Your hard work is an inspiration to us all.