The Alabama state senate has passed a pair of bills that would improve protections for American Indian burial grounds, a move that comes amid growing public outcry over destruction of sacred sites in that state and elsewhere in the Southeast.

State Sen. Wendell Mitchell (D-Luverne) sponsored the legislation in the wake of a controversy that erupted in the past year over the destruction of Indian mounds in Oxford, Ala. One mound in the city was partially destroyed while being used as fill dirt for a new Sam's Club warehouse store, while the other disappeared completely during the construction of a municipal sports complex.

One of the bills would close a loophole in state law that treats differently burial sites for indigenous people vs. later settlers and their descendants, the Anniston Star reports.

Under current Alabama law, anyone who desecrates a grave is guilty of a Class C felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison -- unless it's an Indian grave. In that case, the felony charge applies only to those who maliciously desecrate Indian burial grounds on property they do not own themselves, meaning property owners now have final say over the treatment of Indian graves.

Another bill that passed the Senate last week would require people removing grave sites to get permission first from a local governing body.

Neither measure has any sponsors yet in the state House, according to the paper.

In recent years the Southeast has seen the destruction of a number of sacred Indian sites  in places including Nashville, Tenn. and Canton, Ga. And earlier this month, controversy erupted over Duke Energy's plans to build an electrical substation near the sacred Cherokee site of Kituwah.