Activists calling for the removal of a prominent Confederate statue are now in for a lengthy wait.
Gov. Bill Haslam said earlier this week that he believes a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest on display in the Capitol should be moved, but it could be half a year or longer before any action is taken. That's because of a 2016 law, the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, determines how all memorials and statues are treated.
Critics call the law obstructionist because it sets out strict rules for moving or renaming any object of historical significance. The law was passed after the Charleston church shootings, which set off a wave of calls to reconsider Confederate monuments. Last fall, that law prevented the Memphis City Council from taking down a statue of Forrest located in a city park.
But state Rep. Steve McDaniel, the West Tennessee Republican who pushed the measure through the legislature, says it's a good law.
"It's very clear, and I hope that should it rise to the level asking formally that the bust be removed, that the process be followed."
That process begins with the State Capitol Commission, a panel of government officials, lawmakers and private citizens. Because the commission has jurisdiction over the Capitol building, it has to decide the bust should be moved.
The question then goes to the Tennessee Historical Commission, a committee that's also made up of a mix of private citizens and government officials. It'll have to hold hearings and then vote — by a two-thirds majority — to remove Forrest's bust.
There is a second way. The state legislature could pass a law requiring the bust's removal.
Lawmakers opposed to the statue say they'll consider doing just that when the next session begins in January. But they'll face an uphill political battle, with odds every bit as long as passing through the Capitol and Historical commissions.