WASHINGTON -- Louisiana's congressional delegation is pushing a proposal that could provide an immeasurable boost to both the finances and publicity for the National World War II Museum in New Orleans: It wants the 75th anniversary of the war's end next year to be recognized with a federally backed souvenir coin.
Proceeds from coin sales would benefit the downtown New Orleans museum that Congress designated as the official WWII museum of the United States.
"Seventy-five years after their sacrifices were made to preserve our freedoms, it is up to each of us to ensure that the torch of liberty continues to shine, and that those heroes are never forgotten," Rep. Steve Scalise said.
Scalise, R-Jefferson and the minority whip, has filed legislation in the U.S. House with Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Madisonville, is expected to file companion legislation in the U.S. Senate in the coming days.
"We must never forget the sacrifices made by American men and women during World War II. Many fought and died on the battlefield to ensure a better world for future generations," Kennedy said.
By law, Congress can only approve two commemorative coins to be issued in any given year, and competition for 2020 is especially fierce. Only one spot is open; Congress has already approved coin sales to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Massachusetts.
During the last congressional term, in addition to the WWII proposal, lawmakers sponsored bills that sought to dedicate the other 2020 coin to boxing legend and civil rights activist Muhammad Ali; the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor; the U.S. Coast Guard; President John F. Kennedy; or the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower.
The process also has significant hurdles before a proposal will even be considered: All coin proposals require 290 co-sponsors in the House and at least 67 in the Senate.
"It's a heavy lift," said Stephen Watson, president and CEO of the WWII museum. "It's obviously going to take the whole country getting behind this."
During the congressional term that ended in January, every member of the Louisiana delegation had signed on as co-sponsors for the proposal.
Commemorative coins are typically reserved monumental milestones in the nation's history.
"We think that World War II was the biggest and most important event of the 21st century and to be able to recognize that while there are survivors is significant and meaningful," Watson said. "We're quickly approaching the time when there will be no more."
Recent souvenir coins have marked the Little Rock Central High School desegregation, the Civil Rights Act and the anniversary of the U.S. Marshals Service, as well as culturally important entities like the Girls Scouts, author Mark Twain and breast cancer research.
Watson recently visited Normandy, France, for the 75th anniversary of D-Day with some of the surviving veterans of the deadliest conflict in history that stretched from 1939 to 1945.
"There's a real urgency to our mission that was brought home to me again last week when we were overseas," Watson said. "It will be the last major anniversary with survivors still around."
It's unclear how much the museum will net from the sale of the coins, if the Louisiana delegation is successful. Surcharges vary based on coin denomination, and the final take depends on interest in the coin and volume sold.
The museum, which was founded in 2000 as the D-Day Museum, attracts about 750,000 visitors a year.
Its most recent tax filings show the museum had more than $75 million in revenue for the year that ended in 2017, the most recent figures available, and spent about $42 million.
According to an analysis from the nonprofit Charity Navigator, the World War II Museum's operations rank among the top in the country based on financials, accountability and transparency.
Groups can only benefit from the coins after the U.S. Mint has recouped its costs to create and market them.
The current proposal would direct the Department of the Treasury to mint and issue up to 50,000 $5 coins, 500,000 $1 coins and 750,000 half-dollar coins. The corresponding surcharges would be $35, $10 and $5, respectively.
Watson said it ultimately could add up to several million for the museum if the coins prove popular.
"We think this would be a very successful commemorative coin," he said. "There would be large and broad appeal all across the country."
Beyond the immediate financial gain, Watson said that there is some expectation that commemorative coins could help boost the growing museum's profile while it also plots out exhibits and activities marking the anniversary.
"Anything that can draw attention to our mission and the work we do here on a national scale is important," Watson said. "There is a museum here in New Orleans that will tell the stories not just now, but for generations for come."
This article is written by Elizabeth Crisp from The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.