Governor Northam signs landmark legislation on historic justice, equity
Governor Ralph Northam today signed new laws that repeal racist and discriminatory language from Virginia’s Acts of Assembly, give localities the ability to remove or alter Confederate monuments in their communities, and begin the process of replacing Virginia’s statue of Confederal General Robert E. Lee in the United States Capitol.
“Racial discrimination is rooted in many of the choices we have made about who and what to honor, and in many of the laws that have historically governed this Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. These new laws make Virginia more equitable, just, and inclusive, and I am proud to sign them.”
Senate Bill 183 and House Bill 1537, sponsored by Senator Mamie Locke and Delegate Delores McQuinn, respectively, overturn the Commonwealth’s prohibition on the removal of Confederate war memorials.
Starting July 1, localities will have the ability to remove, relocate, or contextualize the monuments in their communities. Virginia is home to more than 220 public memorials to the Confederacy.
Senate Bill 612 and House Bill 1406, sponsored by Senator Louise Lucas and Delegate Jeion Ward, respectively, create a commission to recommend a replacement for the Robert E. Lee statue in the United States Capitol. To date, eight statues in the National Statuary Hall have been replaced, and seven additional states are working through a similar process to replace statues.
“These monuments tell a particular version of history that doesn’t include everyone,” Governor Northam said. “In Virginia, that version of history has been given prominence and authority for far too long.”
Governor Northam also signed new laws to strike discriminatory language from Virginia’s Acts of Assembly.
In June 2019, Governor Northam established the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law, which subsequently identified 98 instances of overtly discriminatory language still on the Commonwealth’s books.
This includes laws that banned interracial marriage, blocked school integration, and prohibited black and white Virginians from living in the same neighborhoods.
While many of these Acts of Assembly have been overturned by court decisions or subsequent legislation, they had remained enshrined in law.
Senate Bill 600 and House Bill 973 repeal discriminatory language related to education; Senate Bill 636 and House Bill 1325 repeal language related to criminal law; Senate Bill 850 and House Bill 1521 relate to health laws; Senate Bill 874 and House Bill 857 relate to housing laws; Senate Bill 722 and House Bill 1638 relate to matters of General Application; Senate Bill 896 and House Bill 914 relate to transportation laws; and Senate Bill 555 and House Bill 1086 repeal discriminatory language related to voting. Exact language can be viewed in the Commission’s full Interim Report.
Governor Northam also signed House Bill 1519, sponsored by Delegate Delores McQuinn, establishing a commission to study slavery in Virginia and subsequent racial and economic discrimination.
The Commission will be comprised of 11 members, including three legislative members and eight non-legislative citizen members, and will make recommendations to Governor Northam and the General Assembly on appropriate remedies.
“Virginia’s Confederate monuments were erected as symbols of a dangerous Jim Crow era,” said Senator Mamie Locke. “It is past time we told a more complete story of our history and work to build a Commonwealth that values everyone—no matter who you are.”
“Today marks an important step towards a more equitable and welcoming Commonwealth,” said Delegate Delores McQuinn. “Virginia’s history is difficult and complex, and it is important that we tell the full and true story of our past 400 years. These new laws will make our Commonwealth better, and I am grateful for the Governor’s leadership in signing them into law.”
“Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus has advocated on these issues for decades,” said Delegate Lamont Bagby, Chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. “Today I am thinking about all those who came before us, and what this means for the black Virginians who have struggled, and continue to struggle, in the pursuit of justice and equity. I am grateful for the opportunity to partner with Governor Northam to make these laws a reality in our Commonwealth.”
“For more than 400 years, we’ve consciously oppressed and celebrated painful parts of Virginia’s past at the expense of those who are haunted by it the most,” said Dr. Janice Underwood, Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer. “With these laws we are charting a new path for our Commonwealth—one that begins to tell a more complete story of who we are and honors our diversity as our greatest strength. I am very proud to be part of an administration that is committed to doing this work.”