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Florida Veterans Ask Lawmakers To Increase Penalties For Vet Memorial Vandals

Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs Facebook

Did you know it’s worse to vandalize a public telephone than deface a Veterans’ monument in Florida? As one of the most populous states for veterans, Florida lawmakers are trying to correct that.

“My name is Seber Newsome III,” said the Yulee resident. “I’m a veteran. My father was a veteran. He was in World War II in Omaha Beach, and my great-grandfather was a veteran.”

Newsome is normally outspoken on Confederate Veteran Issues. For example, representing the “Save Southern Heritage Florida” organization, he, last year, spoke against a bill to replace a Florida statue of a Confederate general in Washington D.C.

But, this year, Newsome says he’s advocating on behalf of all Florida veterans.

“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,” he added. “And, the penalties right now for vandalizing these monuments is just a slap on the wrist.”

And, fellow veteran Kelly Crocker agrees, saying just last month, there were similar vandalisms in the Panhandle.

“I’m a registered voter here in Leon County, Florida, a property owner, a native Floridian, a veteran of the first Gulf War, and a live member of Veterans of Foreign wars,” he said. “There were about 20 gravestones damaged in Quincy in Gadsden County, Florida. We’ve got to put the brakes on this.”

That’s why both Newsome and Crocker are in favor of a bill by Rep. Brad Drake (R-Eucheeanna) to increase the penalties to deter vandals from defacing or damaging a Veterans’ memorial. Today, the minimum penalty vandals could face is a second degree misdemeanor charge. And, Drake says it doesn’t make sense compared to penalties for other crimes.

“Criminal mischief that damages a church, a public telephone, or sexually violent predator facility constitutes a third degree felony,” said Drake. “That’s the current law. This bill, HB 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.”

Bottomline, Drake added, “Those that give their life for this country and pay the ultimate sacrifice, I think that they should be respected and that there should be more deference given to those than to a telephone booth.”

And, Rep. Mike Miller (R-Winter Park) says it’s odd it’s taken this long for this to happen.

“It’s an excellent bill,” he said. “I’m surprised you trespass on a commercial construction site, it’s a third degree felony, and yet we don’t have that for the people that gave the ultimate sacrifice. It just stunned me.”

Drake’s measure now has one more committee stop before it heads to the House floor. Meanwhile, its Senate companion by Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) has not yet had a hearing.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.