Virginia Cities Will Be Allowed to Move Confederate Monuments Under New Law
RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia state Delegate Jay Jones has to see the statue of a Confederate soldier every day on his way to his law office in Norfolk.
“Every time I drive past it … my heart breaks a little bit,” the black Democrat said Monday. In a speech on the House floor, he joined other Democrats in supporting legislation that would allow localities to move, alter or take down any war memorials, including the Johnny Reb soldier statue, which the Norfolk City Council said in 2017 should move from the downtown plaza to a city-owned cemetery.
On Tuesday, with no Republicans voting in favor of the measure, the Democratic-led Senate and House approved two similar bills to let localities decide what should be done with monuments on public property. It’s a move Democrats had long tried to make under a GOP-controlled legislature. One Democrat, Delegate Steve Heretick, voted against it, and one Republican, Delegate Matt Fariss, did not cast a vote.
The conversation on what to do with Confederate monuments was heightened in 2017, when a decision by the Charlottesville City Council to remove the Robert E. Lee statue sparked violent protests that brought neo-Nazis and white supremacists to the city.
“Taking that statue and moving it somewhere else is not going to somehow dishonor the folks that served in the Civil War,” Jones said.
But that was a concern for Republicans, who argued it wouldn’t just be Confederate monuments that could be taken down or moved.
“This bill affects not just the Civil War but every war this country and Virginia’s ever been in,” said Republican Delegate Charles Poindexter said on Monday. “This bill sends a tough message to every veteran, every dead veteran’s family.”
The General Assembly still has to work out the differences in the legislation. The Senate version, introduced by Democratic Sen. Mamie Locke, requires local governments to pass a resolution stating their intention to move or take down the monument. Then they must formally request the Virginia Department of Historic Resources prepare a report on the monument, and once that report is public, the city council or board of supervisors holds a public hearing. Then they can either vote on it, or hold a referendum.
The House version simply lets the local governing body vote on what to do with a monument.
Poindexter said Monday he wanted to submit an amendment to require a local referendum on any decision to move a monument, but decided against it, blaming the late hour — delegates had been considering bills on the House floor for eight hours.
Lawmakers in both chambers also voted along party lines to create a commission that would recommend whether to take down the Robert E. Lee statue housed in the U.S. Capitol’s statuary hall and gifted by Virginia in 1909.
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