RICHMOND, VA (WHSV) — A bill introduced to the General Assembly would allow any city to remove any war monument regardless of when it was erected.
The bill was proposed by Del. David Toscano of Charlottesville and reads “A locality may also remove or provide for the upkeep, maintenance, or contextualization of any such monument or memorial located in its public space, regardless of when erected.”
It's directly relevant to Charlottesville as the city continues to battle a lawsuit from the Sons of Confederate Veterans and others about the city's 2017 decision to remove statues of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.
The Lee statue decision was the initial motivation of the August 2017 "Unite the Right" rally that ended with white nationalist James Alex Fields, Jr. plowing a car into a crowd of protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring others.
The lawsuit is centered around whether the city has the legal authority to remove the statue. A state law makes it "unlawful for the authorities of the locality, or any other person or persons, to disturb or interfere with" any war monuments, but the city argued that state law applied only to war memorials built after the law was amended in 1998 (the statute was originally codified in the 1950s, after the statues were erected in the 1920s).
Judge Richard E. Moore ruled that the law applies to all war monuments, regardless of when they were erected, but said plaintiffs did not adequately prove that the Lee statue is a war monument. That lawsuit now covers the Jackson statue and could hold individual city councilmembers responsible.
Toscano's bill would nullify the monument protections of that law.
It also affects Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy. In 2018, the Monument Avenue Commission recommended removal of a statue of Jefferson Davis in Richmond and providing contextual elements to other statues on Monument Avenue of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart.
The bill also allows any war monument to be erected for any American conflict dating back to Algonquin in 1622 to the Global War on Terrorism.
The bill has been referred to committee. Read the full text of the bill here.
Similar bills proposed in the past have never made it to a floor vote.