Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a number of bills Saturday, including anti-discrimination legislation that offers new protections for LGBTQ people and another measure that gives localities permission to remove Confederate monuments.
Northam's office announced in news releases that he had taken action on those and other measures ahead of the end-of-day Saturday deadline to amend, sign or veto most legislation passed during this year’s legislative session, including the budget. But as of late Saturday afternoon, Northam's office had not said what action he would take on two closely watched issues: a bill raising the minimum wage and another allowing public sector collective bargaining under limited circumstances.
Workers' advocates have said both changes are more needed than ever in light of the coronavirus pandemic that's crippled the economy. But business groups have lobbied Northam to delay or veto those measures, saying they would strain employers and add costs for taxpayers.
Advocates of the nondiscrimination bill, called the Virginia Values Act, say it will make Virginia the first Southern state to offer those protections for LGBTQ people.
The legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, public or private employment, public spaces and credit transactions. It also lays out causes of action that would allow individuals, or in certain circumstances the attorney general, to sue over alleged discrimination.
“No longer will LGBTQ Virginians have to fear being fired, evicted, or denied service in public places because of who they are," the governor said in a statement.
The measure passed over the objection of many Christian organizations that raised religious liberty concerns.
Final passage of the Confederate monuments bill means that starting July 1, localities will have the ability to remove, relocate, or contextualize the monuments in their communities as they see fit.
Virginia is home to more than 220 public memorials to the Confederacy, according to Northam's office. Many of those have been a long-running source of controversy.
A violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017 renewed the debate over whether Confederate monuments are appropriate in public spaces, but localities that wanted to take them down were hamstrung by the previous law, which protected them.
The new measure says a locality must hold a public hearing before voting to remove or otherwise alter a monument. If it decides to remove one, it must be offered to “any museum, historical society, government or military battlefield,” although the governing body ultimately gets the say on the “final disposition.”
Northam also signed bills Saturday that begin the process of replacing Virginia’s statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the U.S. Capitol and remove racist language in old laws that technically still remain on the books.
The Democrat-controlled General Assembly is scheduled to take up the governor’s vetoes and amendments during a one-day session later this month.