- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2019

Virginia lawmakers rejected a proposal Wednesday that would have given cities and counties the authority to remove war memorials from public spaces by circumventing a century-old statute currently preventing the dismantling of Confederate monuments within the state.

A subcommittee of the Virginia House of Delegates Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns voted 2-6 against the bill during a meeting in Richmond, killing an effort mounted by Del. David Toscano, a Democrat representing Charlottesville, to let leaders in localities like his decide the fate of contentious statues commemorating Confederate Army soldiers.

“We give localities the ability to control the cutting of weeds. But we haven’t yet given them the control over monuments that might have detrimental effects on the atmosphere and the feeling of the community,” Mr. Toscano said, the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Capital News Service reported. “If you weren’t in Charlottesville in August of 2017, it would be hard to understand all of this.”

Charlottesville officials voted in early 2017 to remove a statue from a city park of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, prompting protests that culminated in a rally, titled “Unite the Right,” that summer. The rally, which attracted white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Klansmen, ended in a participant murdering a counterprotester, Heather Heyer, and seriously injuring several others with his car.

Several localities throughout the former Confederacy subsequently took steps to remove similar monuments, but both the Lee statue and a similar monument celebrating Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson remain standing in Charlottesville, a city of roughly 50,000 people located about 115 miles southwest of Washington, D.C.

Mr. Toscano’s proposal, House Bill 2377, would have permitted localities within Virginia to “remove or provide for the upkeep, maintenance, or contextualization of any monument or memorial for war veterans located in its public space, regardless of when erected,” according to its language, effectively circumventing a Virginia state statute put in place less than 20 years after the Civil War ended.

“Current law makes it unlawful to disturb or interfere with such 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,” Mr. Toscano wrote in the bill’s summary.

Ed Willis, an opponent of the bill who described himself as a descendant of Civil War soldiers, argued during the meeting that Mr. Toscano’s proposal violates provisions in the Virginia Constitution prohibiting discrimination, the Capital News Service reported.

“It’s painfully clear discrimination based on Confederate national origin is the basis of this bill,” Mr. Willis said, the outlet reported.

Delegates who voted against the bill included Steve Heretick, a Democrat, and five Republicans: Charles D. Poindexter, Terry Austin, Jeffrey Campbell, John McGuire and Bob Thomas.

A previous effort to pass a similar bill failed in 2018.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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