By Cassie Cope and Andrew Shain

Gov. Nikki Haley called Monday for legislators to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State House.

Republican Haley, the state's first minority and first woman governor, acted after renewed calls for removing of the flag in the wake of the massacre at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church last week, where nine people, including state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper, were killed by a 21-year-old white supremacist.

S.C. legislators return to Columbia Tuesday for a special session to pass the state budget. However, they could add the flag issue to their agenda and take it up Tuesday. Or they deal with it when they return in July to handle budget vetoes. Still, removing the controversial emblem could be difficult. State law requires that two-thirds of House and Senate members must vote to remove the flag.

"It's time to move the (Confederate) flag from the Capitol grounds," Haley said, flanked by several state lawmakers at the State House during a news conference Monday afternoon. "One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War, the time has come."

Haley noted the flag has been a symbol of noble things for many people across the state, adding that would not change.

"Whether it's on the State House grounds or in a museum, the flag will always be a part of the soil of South Carolina."

But at the same time, she said, it has remained an offensive symbol for many other state residents.

She said those who wish to fly the flag on private property have every right to do so, but noted the State House belongs to the entire state.

"The State House is different," Haley said. "We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer."

The flag was removed from the State House's Capitol dome in 2000, having flown there since 1962.

In 2000, a hard-fought compromise resulted in the flag being moved from the dome to behind a monument to Confederate soldiers located in front of the State House, at the intersection of Gervais and Main streets.

However, that compromise did not end the protests about the flag's presence at the State House, and the NAACP called for a tourist boycott of the state. S.C. Democratic leaders have asked repeatedly over the years for the flag's removal.

After last Wednesday's mass slaying, more than 1,500 people gathered at a hastily organized rally Saturday at the State House to demand the flag be taken down.

National political leaders also joined that call.

President Barack Obama, a Democrat, has said he thinks the Confederate flag belongs in a museum.

Over the weekend, 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, R-Mass., and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, one of the leading contenders for the GOP's 2016 nomination, said they supported removing the flag.

Republican state Reps. Doug Brannon of Spartanburg and Gary Clary of Pickens also called for the removal of the flag.

Republican Sen. Tom Davis, the Beaufort Republican who is a leader of the state Senate's libertarian faction, said Monday the flag should come down.

On Facebook Monday, Davis said, "The Confederate battle flag now flying on the State House grounds has been misappropriated by hate groups as a symbol of their hatred, and while I respect the views of those who proudly view this flag as a symbol of their heritage, we must find another way to honor that heritage."

Charleston leaders -- including the city's Mayor Joe Riley, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, and three Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Leon Stavrinakis and Wendell Gilliard and Sen. Marlon Kimpson -- called for the flag's removal at a news conference Monday.

University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides and athletics director Ray Tanner called for the flag to come down on Monday as did Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.

During an October gubernatorial debate, Haley said the Civil War symbol was not a problem for the state, where the 19th century conflict began. During that debate, Haley said no chief executives of companies with operations in the state had complained to her about the flag.

At Monday's news conference, Haley praised S.C. residents for the way they have pulled together.

"Our state is grieving but we are all coming together," she said. "South Carolina did not respond (to the events) with rioting and violence like other places have. We responded by talking to each other."

Haley pointed, in particular to the family members of those killed in last week's shooting.

"They truly have shown the country what South Carolina looks like at its best."

Staff writers Jamie Self and Bertram Rantin contributed.

(c)2015 The State (Columbia, S.C.)