Bill killed that would've let Virginia cities remove Confederate monuments

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — UPDATE (Feb. 1, 2018):

October 2016 file image of R.E. Lee statue with crowd of supporters in Charlottesville by: Newsplex

A series of bills to facilitate the removal or relocation of Confederate statues has been voted down after top Virginia Democrats called for Confederate statues to be taken down.

A House of Delegates subcommittee overwhelmingly voted down the series of bills.

A bill proposed by House Minority Leader David Toscano would have modified an existing Virginia law designed to protect war memorials by letting any locality "remove or provide for the upkeep, maintenance, or contextualization of any such monument or memorial located in its public space," regardless of when the monument was erected.

The long-simmering debate about what to do with symbols of the Confederacy was renewed this summer after the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, which is part of Toscano's district. The rally, which descended into deadly violence, was held in part to protest the liberal city's decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

A similar bill, HB 1097, was filed by Del. Mark Levine to allow local governments to relocate monuments owned by localities to a museum of choice, or, if the monument is privately owned, a local government could give the owner an opportunity to reclaim or relocate it within six months.

Wednesday's vote means that the state won't be getting rid of its memorials erected during the Lost Cause movement anytime soon, because another panel already voted down the Senate version of the same bill.

Virginia, where much of the Civil War was fought, is peppered with monuments and other tributes to the Confederacy.

Top Virginia Democrats, including Gov. Ralph Northam, called last year for Confederate statues to be taken down, saying they're seen by many as painful reminders of racial injustice and white supremacy.

Last month, a a poll by the Virginia Commonwealth University found that 49 percent of Virginians favor leaving Confederate statues where they stand, while 46 percent favor change in some form.

Those who want change are split between wanting statues moved to museums, adding context to the current location, or removing them altogether.

Those in western Virginia favored keeping monuments in place by 65%, while only 37% of those polled in northern Virginia held the same opinion.

You can find the full results of that poll here.

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ORIGINAL STORY (Jan. 11, 2018):

Virginia cities would have the authority to remove or alter Confederate monuments under a proposal from a top Democratic state lawmaker.

House Minority Leader David Toscano filed a bill this week that he said aims to clarify what's allowed under an existing law designed to protect war memorials. The law prohibits governments from removing, damaging or defacing war memorials, but there is legal ambiguity about whether that applies to things erected before the law was passed.

The long-simmering debate about what to do with symbols of the Confederacy was renewed this summer after the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, which is part of Toscano's district. The rally, which descended into deadly violence, was held in part to protest the liberal city's decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Virginia, where much of the Civil War was fought, is peppered with monuments and other tributes to the Confederacy.

Toscano's bill would amend the existing law so that a locality may "remove or provide for the upkeep, maintenance, or contextualization of any such monument or memorial located in its public space," regardless of when the monument was erected.

The change would let cities decide what's right for their community, Toscano said.

"If you live in Loudon and you don't want to have a Confederate statue taken down, you don't have to have that taken down. But if you live in another place and your locality wants it to be taken down, that's their right," he said.

A similar bill, HB 1097, was filed by Del. Mark Levine to allow local governments to relocate monuments owned by localities to a museum of choice, or, if the monument is privately owned, a local government could give the owner an opportunity to reclaim or relocate it within six months.

Republicans expressed doubt Thursday about the measure's chances of passage.

Jeff Ryer, spokesman for the Virginia Senate GOP, said he didn't think there would be much support for the bill in his caucus.

Republican Del. Charles Poindexter, whose district encompasses rural Franklin, Patrick and Henry counties, said the state's Confederate monuments are an important tourism draw for the state.

"We can't change our history," he said, adding that taking down Confederate monuments would take away the opportunity for future generations to learn about that chapter of Virginia's past. He said he didn't think Republicans in the House would back Toscano's bill.

Earlier this week, a poll by the Virginia Commonwealth University found that 49 percent of Virginians favor leaving Confederate statues where they stand, while 46 percent favor change in some form.

Those who want change are split between wanting statues moved to museums, adding context to the current location, or removing them altogether.

Those in western Virginia favored keeping monuments in place by 65%, while only 37% of those polled in northern Virginia held the same opinion.

You can find the full results of that poll here.

Advocates for removing Confederate monuments say they're offensive reminders of slavery and racism.

Poindexter sponsored a bill in 2016 intended to protect Confederate monuments. The measure passed both chambers but was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.