Virginia’s Youngkin Vetoes Bills on Confederate Heritage Tax Breaks, Robert E. Lee License Plates

The governor also killed a closely watched measures that would have codify the right to use contraception.
Virginia’s Youngkin Vetoes Bills on Confederate Heritage Tax Breaks, Robert E. Lee License Plates
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin gestures to supporters while arriving at Piney Branch Elementary School in Bristow, Va., on Nov. 7, 2023. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Bill Pan

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed dozens of bills late Friday, just before the midnight deadline when those measures would have automatically become laws.

Of the hundreds of final bills the Democrat-majority General Assembly delivered to his desk before going into recess two months ago, the Republican governor sent back 115 with his own amendments. The majority of those recommendations have been accepted, but lawmakers rejected dozens of vetoes.

On Friday, the last day he could decide what actions to take on the remaining pieces of legislation, Mr. Youngkin vetoed 49 bills while signing 6.

“While I look forward to working with the General Assembly to see if we can reach agreements on language in the future, today I must act on the language before me, and there are several bills which are not ready to become law,” Mr. Youngkin said in a statement.

Confederate Tax Exemption

Notable vetoes include a Democrat-backed bill aimed at removing tax exemptions for specific nonprofit organizations that honor the heritage of those who fought under the Confederate banner during the Civil War.
Specifically, the bill aimed to eliminate the Virginia Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s (UDC) exemption from state recordation taxes, as well as the tax-exempt designation for real and personal property owned by the women’s group, the Confederate Memorial Literary Society and the Stonewall Jackson Memorial.

Headquartered in Richmond, the UDC is probably best known for erecting Confederate monuments across the South, many of which in recent years have become heated flashpoints, with sometimes violent confrontations between activists who view them as homages to the nation’s slave-holding past and those who see them as emblems of Southern heritage and pride.

The UDC is among many military-, history- and veteran-related organizations listed in Virginia’s code for property tax exemptions. It is also the only group whose recordation tax-exempt status is enshrined in the state law.

In his veto message, Mr. Youngkin argued that the Confederate heritage groups shouldn’t be singled out from his state’s property tax exemption scheme, a designation-based system he described as “ripe for reform.”

“A more effective approach to reform would involve broad-based measures, allowing local governments autonomy in determining tax exemptions and considering the locality’s tax base and deed transfers,” the governor said. “These considerations would be permitted when a county or city sets its real estate tax levy, helping to reduce effective tax increases through assessments.”

“Narrowly targeting specific organizations to gain or lose such tax exemptions sets an inappropriate precedent,” he said.

Confederate License Plates

Also in the batch of vetoed bills was one concerning license plates with themes of Confederate commander Robert E. Lee and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the male counterpart of UDC.
The bill would order Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles to stop offering those specialty plates. The ones that are already in circulation will remain valid until their expiration and shall not be renewed.

The state DMV, according to Mr. Youngkin, offers over 300 different types of specialty plates. The spectrum of special interest plates ranges from expressions of regional support to “debated social issues” to more personal endorsements of musicians, sports teams, and private businesses.

“In some instances, the plates represent overtly political statements, including pro-abortion, pro-life, for and against the Second Amendment, and even international relations concerning Tibet,” he explained.

Acknowledging that some may find those explicitly political license plates “offensive and controversial,” the governor maintains that the DMV’s approval process is “neutral and impartial,” with ultimate approval by the Legislature.

“These plates are not endorsements by the Commonwealth,” he said.

Another vetoed bill, spearheaded by Democrat state Sen. Ghazala Hashmi and Del. Marcia “Cia” Price, would have codified the right to use contraception. The bill also includes language protecting medical professional the right to provide contraceptives and information related to contraception.

Mr. Youngkin insisted that he supports contraception access, but he also emphasized that, as governor, he must acknowledge the “diverse religious, ethical, and moral beliefs” of his state’s residents.