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Northam signs bill to allow removal of Confederate monuments
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Northam signs bill to allow removal of Confederate monuments

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Lee statue

Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the city’s statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in 2017.

Gov. Ralph Northam signed bills Saturday afternoon that give localities in Virginia the ability to remove or alter Confederate monuments.

The signature comes more than three years after the Charlottesville City Council vote to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, and later Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

That vote spurred a deadly white supremacist rally that tried to unite various far-right factions on Aug. 12, 2017, as well as a lawsuit to protect the monuments, which the city lost.

Now, though, pending city courts’ ability to address legal issues, Charlottesville has a new path toward trying to remove the statues.

“This is landmark legislation for Virginia,” said Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, on Saturday. “Communities across the Commonwealth will finally have the freedom to reckon with our public history and decide for ourselves what to celebrate. There’s still so much work to be done, but this is a major milestone for all the advocates, activists, educators and community leaders who elevated this urgent call together.”

Senate Bill 183 and House Bill 1537, sponsored by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, and Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, respectively, overturn the state’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.

The bills initially differed in the process a local governing body would have to follow in order to alter a monument, with the Senate-backed bill requiring a vote by a supermajority in order to act, among other things.

The measures Northam signed do not require a supermajority, but allow a locality to hold a nonbinding referendum on what to do with its monuments.

“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,” Northam said in a news release. “These new laws make Virginia more equitable, just, and inclusive, and I am proud to sign them.”

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Other bills signed also create a commission to recommend a replacement to the Robert E. Lee statue in the U.S. Capitol.

Discriminatory language

Northam also signed new laws to strike discriminatory language from Virginia’s Acts of Assembly and to establish a commission to study slavery in Virginia and subsequent racial and economic discrimination.

“Today marks an important step towards a more equitable and welcoming Commonwealth,” McQuinn said in a release. “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.”

LGBTQ protections

Gov. Ralph Northam on Saturday signed the Virginia Values Act, legislation that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning people from discrimination in housing, employment and public spaces.

The signature makes Virginia the first Southern state with comprehensive protections for the LGBTQ community.

“This legislation sends a strong, clear message — Virginia is a place where all people are welcome to live, work, visit, and raise a family,” Northam said in a statement. “We are building an inclusive commonwealth where there is opportunity for everyone, and everyone is treated fairly.”

The law takes effect July 1.

Senate Bill 868 from Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, also establishes new protections to state residents based on their race, religion and national origin, among other things. Ebbin became Virginia’s first openly gay legislator after he was elected in 2003.

Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, who carried a similar bill in the House of Delegates called the Virginia Values Act the “most comprehensive civil rights bill in Virginia’s history this session.”

Sickles announced in February 2014 that he is gay, becoming the second openly gay member of the legislature.

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