RICHMOND — A proposal to create a method for local governments to remove war monuments, including ones to the Confederacy, is headed to the floor of the Virginia Senate.
The Democrat-controlled Senate Local Government Committee voted 8-7 along party lines on Monday to advance Senate Bill 183, from Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, to give localities the authority to take down monuments. The House of Delegates will take up its versions of the legislation later this week.
State law limits local governments’ power to remove or modify war memorials. It’s become even more of an issue since a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. The rally was held in response to that city’s efforts to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Democrats filed legislation in the past, but Republicans in control then blocked their efforts.
The legislation, co-patroned by Sens. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, and Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, lays out a process for local governments to follow when they want to remove a monument, such as a timeline, a study of the monument and opportunities for a museum or another entity to request to take the monument.
Locke shared her agonizing experience of being an archivist and working with Civil War and Confederate history.
“Like so many other states, Virginia’s monuments to the Confederacy were largely erected in the early 20th century, approximately 40 to 50 years after the end of the Civil War,” she told the committee. “This was during the Jim Crow era, when Confederate monuments were used to perpetuate this Lost Cause mythology, suppress the burgeoning civil rights movement. This has nothing to do with history or heritage.”
People who protested the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville urged the committee to pass a bill that would reduce burdens to removing statues. The city of Charlottesville has been trying to take down its statue of Lee for more than four years.
“These statues are not benign,” said Lisa Draine, whose daughter was severely injured after being struck by the car a man rammed through the crowd. “They are magnets of hate and violence.”
Andrew Morehead, representing the Virginia chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, was concerned about the broad language in the bill that allowed for any war memorial, not just Civil War, to be taken down. He worried it would open up the possibility of other monuments being taken down.
Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, said she empathized with their reasons for not wanting to have the monuments on display. But she urged correcting the historical narrative rather than removing it from the public eye.
“We have the ability to build on a past that may be not what we want it to be,” she said.
Driver’s license bill passes Senate
The Senate unanimously passed legislation Monday that would permanently repeal a state law that suspends the Virginia driver’s license of anyone who doesn’t promptly pay court fines or costs unrelated to driving offenses.
Suspending driver’s licenses is used to encourage people to pay their court fines and fees. But supporters of ending the practice point out the challenging cycle that people get caught up in if they lose their license because they can’t pay a court debt.
“We had created for ourselves a debtors prison,” said Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, the sponsor of SB 1.
This is the third time Stanley has introduced this bill, which the Senate passed on a 40-0 vote.
Last year, the bill passed the Senate but died in a Republican-controlled House of Delegates subcommittee. Stanley worked with Gov. Ralph Northam to temporarily halt the practice. Since then, more than 600,000 people have had their driving privileges restored.
The House has a companion bill moving through the legislative process. The bill has cleared the House Courts of Justice Committee that has killed the bill in the past when under Republican control.
“I’ve been preaching at this pulpit for a long time,” Stanley said. “It used to be a solo journey, but now I have many friends along with me.”
Push to repeal ‘tampon tax’
Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Loudoun, is making another attempt at repealing the so-called tampon tax.
The Senate voted 40-0 to pass her SB 231 that would eliminate the sales tax applied to menstrual products, like pads and cups. If enacted into law, it wouldn’t take effect until 2021.
More than 30 states still tax these products, but public opposition has been building as more people believe the necessary products shouldn’t be taxed.
Last year, Boysko’s tax exemption bill was changed to match a bill from Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, to reduce the sales tax to 1.5% on personal hygiene products, which also included items like diapers.
The House companion bill hasn’t moved.