By Associated Press
Virginia lawmakers on Monday approved budget changes proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam, including adding $1 million to pay for an independent investigation into allegations of racism at the Virginia Military Institute.
Northam — a VMI graduate — and other top Democratic elected officials sent a letter to the public school’s board last month announcing an investigation into its culture, policies, practices and equity in disciplinary procedures after a Washington Post story that described Black cadets and alumni facing “relentless racism.”
VMI’s superintendent, retired Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, resigned last month under pressure from the governor’s office after the article was published.
The House of Delegates and the Senate both approved the budget allocation for the investigation, although several members said they felt there has been a rush to judgment.
Del. Kirk Cox, a Republican, said the incidents described in the article are “unacceptable” and should be investigated, but said he thinks Peay was treated unfairly and doubts that an investigation can be truly independent.
“I’ve been disappointed in how the VMI issue has been handled,” Cox said, before voting against the budget amendment.
Northam’s revised budget also includes enabling language for a new redistricting commission voters approved through a constitutional amendment last week. The House and Senate also approved that amendment Monday.
A bipartisan commission of citizens and legislators equally divided between Democrats and Republicans will now redraw the state’s congressional and General Assembly districts to conform with the 2020 Census.
The revisions were made to a two-year state budget that the General Assembly passed last month during a special legislative session that focused on economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, as well as police and criminal justice reforms.
During the special session, which began in August, the legislature passed a host of police reforms, including a ban on no-knock warrants, legislation allowing communities to establish civilian review boards and limiting the use of neck restraints.