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Bill Giving Local Control Over Confederate Monuments Passes Virginia Committee For First Time

A sign reading "local control over local spaces"
A dozen supporters, some of them survivors of the deadly Unite The Right Rally in Charlottesville, spoke in favor of local control over Confederate monuments at a Senate committee meeting in Richmond on Monday. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)

The Virginia Senate will consider for the first time whether or not local governments should have the power to decide what to do with Confederate monuments.

The  legislation gives local governments the authority to remove or alter war memorials, including Confederate monuments. It passed the Senate Local Government Committee in an 8-7 party-line vote Monday, with Democrats in favor and Republicans against.  Under current Virginia law, localities are barred from doing anything with war memorials without state approval. 

Kristin Szakos, a former Charlottesville City Council member, spoke in favor of the proposal. She said localities should be able to decide what sort of message they want to elevate in their public places.

“For some people, they stand for the heritage of their great grandfathers who fought on the wrong side of the Civil War, for others, it's a reminder that we had white supremacy and shouldn’t forget it,” Szakos said. “They continue to kind of emit their message of white supremacy and, for us in Charlottesville, that’s not something we want to continue emitting into the world.”

Former Del. David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) sponsored legislation to remove the state statute protecting war memorials for the last two years. Each year  the bill failed to pass out of a sub-committee. 

The largest opponents of local control have been groups such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Sons of the Confederacy and the Virginia Flaggers.

Representatives from these groups spoke in opposition to the bills at the committee meeting. 

Andrew Bennett Morehead, a spokesperson for the Virginia chapter of the Sons of Confederacy, said it could create a slippery slope.

“After the low-hanging fruit of everything Confederate is done, then they will move on to the founders, and then the less popular wars such as Vietnam,” Morehead told the committee.

While the local control bill will now move to the Senate floor for debate, several key issues remain undecided. 

Three bills from Sen. Mamie Locke (D - Hampton), Sen. Creigh Deeds (D - Bath) and Sen. Lionel Spruill (D - Chesapeake) were combined into one proposal at Monday’s committee meeting. The bills had conflicting language about whether or not there should be a public referendum to remove a monument, and whether a locality should be required to find a statue a new home. 

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