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Bill would let Virginia cities remove Confederate monuments

FILE - In this June 29, 2017, file photo, the early morning sun highlights the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va. Virginia cities would have the authority to remove or alter Confederate monuments under a proposal from a top Democratic lawmaker. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia cities would have the authority to remove or alter Confederate monuments under a proposal from a top Democratic state lawmaker.

House Minority Leader David Toscano filed a bill this week that he said aims to clarify what’s allowed under an existing law designed to protect war memorials. The law prohibits governments from removing, damaging or defacing war memorials, but there is legal ambiguity about whether that applies to things erected before the law was passed.

The long-simmering debate about what to do with symbols of the Confederacy was renewed this summer after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, which is part of Toscano’s district. The rally, which descended into deadly violence, was held in part to protest the liberal city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Virginia, where much of the Civil War was fought, is peppered with monuments and other tributes to the Confederacy.

Toscano’s bill would amend the existing law so that a locality may “remove or provide for the upkeep, maintenance, or contextualization of any such monument or memorial located in its public space,” regardless of when the monument was erected.

The change would let cities decide what’s right for their community, Toscano said.

“If you live in Loudoun and you don’t want to have a Confederate statue taken down, you don’t have to have that taken down. But if you live in another place and your locality wants it to be taken down, that’s their right,” he said.

Republicans expressed doubt Thursday about the measure’s chances of passage.

Jeff Ryer, spokesman for the Virginia Senate GOP, said he didn’t think there would be much support for the bill in his caucus.

Republican Del. Charles Poindexter, whose district encompasses rural Franklin, Patrick and Henry counties, said the state’s Confederate monuments are an important tourism draw.

“We can’t change our history,” he said, adding that taking down Confederate monuments would take away the opportunity for future generations to learn about that chapter of Virginia’s past. He said he didn’t think Republicans in the House would back Toscano’s bill.

Advocates for removing Confederate monuments say they’re offensive reminders of slavery and racism.

Poindexter sponsored a bill in 2016 intended to protect Confederate monuments. The measure passed both chambers but was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

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