Northam signs bills allowing removal and altering of Confederate monuments, repeal of racist language

Richmond
Ralph Northam

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam gestures during a news conference at the Capitol Wednesday April 8, 2020, in Richmond, Va. Northam gave an update on his COVID-19 plans. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Governor Northam signed significant new laws on Saturday that give community localities the power to alter or remove Confederate monuments and that repeal racist and discriminatory language found in Virginia’s Acts of Assembly.

Beginning with replacing the Capitol’s Confederal General Robert E. Lee statue, on July 1 the legislation will allow for the Commonwealth to “remove, relocate, or contextualize” any of the 220 public memorials that exist throughout the state.

“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.”

The legislation is comprised of Senator Mamie Locke’s sponsored Senate Bill 183 and Delegate Delores McQuinn’s sponsored House Bill 1537 which push for the removal of Confederate war memorials. Additionally, Senator Louise Lucas’ sponsored Senate Bill 612 and Delegate Jeion Ward’s sponsored House Bill 1406 which specifically focus on the replacement of Confederal General Robert E. Lee statue.

The official statement released by the governor’s office reports that to date, eight statues in the National Statuary Hall have been replaced and seven states are working to replace statues in similar contexts.

“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.”

Aside from the monuments, the governor signed laws to remove discriminatory language from Virginia’s Acts of Assembly which he identified as having 98 instances in his June 2019 Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law. Although many of the laws have since been “overturned by court decisions or subsequent legislation,” they remain in legal writing.

The senate and house bills signed repeal discriminatory language related to education, criminal law, health law, housing laws, transportation laws and discriminatory language in reference to voting. The Commission’s full Interm Report can be read online.

This also includes the signing of Delegate Delores McQuinn’s sponsored House Bill 1519 which establishes a commission of 11 members including legislative and non-legislative citizens, to evaluate slavery and racial and economic discrimination in the state. Findings will allow the members to make applicable recommendations to Governor Northam and the General Assembly.

“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.”


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