WASHINGTON COUNTY, Va. (WJHL) – Over the weekend, Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam, signed a number of bills into law. Senate Bill 183 and House Bill 1537 that were signed on Saturday will overturn the Commonwealth’s prohibition on the removal of Confederate war memorials.
Localities will have the ability to remove, relocate, or contextualize the monuments in their communities starting on July 1st of this year. According to a release from Governor Northam’s office, there are more than 220 public memorials to the Confederacy spread across Virginia with some of those in parts of Southwest Virginia.
“This 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.”
Those local to the Southwest Virginia area are also weighing in on the new legislation. News Channel 11 reaches out to the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and they do not have a comment on the new legislation at the time.
Chuck Slemp, the Commonwealth’s attorney for Wise County and the city of Norton, weighed in clarifying that these bills are not solely directed at just confederacy related monuments but these new powers could in fact be used for the removal or relocation of any memorial or monument.
“War of 1812, Civil War, Revolutionary War, all the way up to Iraqi Freedom, it’s all identified in this specific bill,” said Slemp.
The bill also removes certain criminal and civil penalties. Under current law, it is unlawful to disturb or interfere with these monuments or memorials or to prevent citizens from taking proper measures and exercising proper means for the protection, preservation, and care of such monuments or memorials.
While the bill covers additional wars and not just the Civil War, the focus tends to shift to the debate of Confederate monuments and memorials since they tend to cause the most controversy.
Associate professor of history at UVA-Wise, Jinny Turman, said this new legislation could be a good thing in terms of opening the topic of the fate of these memorials into open discussion.
“It will give people the opportunity to air their perspectives and their opinions of these and to have a platform where they can be part of the decision-making process,” said Turman.
News Channel 11 reached out to Bristol, Virginia Mayor Neal Osborne for his opinion on this new legislation seeing as the city of Bristol has one Confederate monument in their jurisdiction.
Osborne said they moved the monument almost a decade ago to a new location and has not heard any issues with the new location. Because of that, he says he doubts this new legislation will impact them. However, he does agree with giving the power to localities.
“I think it’s good that the state will allow localities to have the option to move these statues or to get rid of them completely if they want to,” said Osborne.
Once again, this new legislation is set to go into effect on July 1st, 2020.