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Bills Giving Localities Control Over Confederate Monuments Pass The General Assembly

The Jefferson Davis statue on Richmond's Monument Avenue.
The Jefferson Davis statue on Richmond's Monument Avenue. (Craig Carper/VPM)

Local governments could soon have control over the fate of Confederate monuments in their jurisdiction. 

Bills that would remove a state law protecting war memorials in Virginia passed both chambers of the General Assembly on Tuesday. The bills would  repeal a state law banning localities from removing or altering any war memorials, including Confederate monuments.

Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), who is  sponsoring the Senate bill, said local governments should have control over the message they want to send through their statues.

“I don’t think the plan is to destroy, I think the plan is to find a more suitable location,” Locke said. “That suitable location may be to a cemetery, it may be to a museum, but it’s the right of the locality to make that decision.”

The two bills also set up a process for communities deciding on whether and how to remove or relocate a monument. First, the locality must commission a report from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources on the history of the statue. They also have to hold a public meeting. Only then can they choose to remove or relocate a monument with a two-thirds majority vote. 

The two bills passed Tuesday mostly along party lines, with Democrats support and Republicans opposing.

Del. Charles Poindexter (R-Glade Hill) said he is worried the bills could allow for localities to take down statues from other unpopular wars, not just the Civil War.

"Now we're being told that our forefathers were not nation builders, but slaveholders and villains who should be erased from the history books," Poindexter argued on the House floor.

A last-minute change to the Senate version of the bill, proposed by  Sen. Tommy Norment (R-James City), would continue to protect Confederate monuments in the City of Lexington. 

Both bills will need to be approved by the opposite chamber before becoming law.