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Local governments granted authority to remove Confederate monuments

Legislation granting local governments the authority to remove, relocate, or alter Confederate monuments owned by the locality has passed the General Assembly and will be signed into law by Governor Ralph Northam.

HB 1537 (McQuinn) provides that a locality may remove, relocate, contextualize, or cover any monument or memorial for war veterans located in its public space, regardless of when erected.  Currently, state law disallows localities from disturbing or interfering with such monuments or memorials and makes it unlawful for a locality to prevent citizens from taking proper measures and exercising proper means for the protection, preservation, and care of such monuments or memorials.

This legislation is the result of several years’ worth of efforts by several localities seeking to move or replace confederate monuments located on government property.  While HB 1537 is the first time these efforts have succeeded in the General Assembly, the legislation does offer several guidelines.

First, the local governing body is required to provide a 30-day notice of their intent to remove, relocate, contextualize, or cover any public owned monument or memorial and is required to hold a public hearing that includes a public comment period.  Localities may also elect to hold a referendum on the issue.

Second, should the locality decide to follow through with their intent to remove, relocate, contextualize, or cover any monument, the local governing body shall, for a period of 30 days, offer the monument or memorial for relocation and placement to any museum, historical society, government, or military battlefield.  Ultimately, however, the local government will have the final say as to where the monument will go.

Third, localities are prohibited from destroying any monument or memorial that they elect to remove.

Finally, the Virginia Board of Historic Resources has been directed to establish regulations governing the way any monument or memorial may be contextualized, if the locality has elected to do so.

HB 1537 was one of the last bills to be finalized during the 2020 legislative session.  On Saturday, March 7, the bill passed the House of Delegates by a vote of 52-43, and on Sunday, March 8, the Senate approved the measure 23-15.  HB 1537 now heads to the Governor’s desk, where he has 30 days to act on the measure.

VACo Contact: Chris McDonald, Esq.

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