Last Wednesday, April 3rd, the Virginia General Assembly reconvened in Richmond to vote on the Governor's 40 budget amendments, suggested amendments to 46 other bills, and his vetoes.
On Wednesday, we sustained every single one of the Governor's vetoes.
Click here for a list of the Governor's vetoes and recommendations.
When serving in the minority with a Governor who agrees with you on most things, the reconvene session is a much more pleasant experience than the regular session. Rather than seeing good bills killed simply because they're introduced by a Democrat, or having to vote no on ridiculous legislation that would essentially have Virginia handing out concealed-carry permits to non-Virginians like candy on Halloween, we get to vote to sustain the Governor's vetoes to bad bills or amendments that almost uniformly improve bills.
One great amendment that we passed will protect paid family leave (PFML) for state employees who are foster parents. I have talked in past newsletters about SB1581/HB2234, which would have prevented foster parents who were state employees from having access to PFML. I’m proud to say that on this bill, after I flagged it and removed it from the uncontested calendar, arguing on the floor that foster parents should receive PFML, the Governor amended the legislation to do exactly as I requested. Then, the House of Delegates switched from a unanimous vote in favor of a PFML policy that excluded foster parents to unanimous support for foster parent PFML.
Foster parents work hard under difficult circumstances to raise children who usually come from broken homes and often have had prior bad experiences with their birth parents. Foster parents' bonding with their children is absolutely necessary for these kids to have trust and well-being in their new home. I'm glad to have forced the issue to ensure that foster parents receive the same paid family medical leave as other state employees. And I'm particularly pleased that the Governor agreed with me and that my colleagues in the House and Senate were persuaded to support this important measure.
This year, I was also pleased that we passed two budget amendments that are big victories for racial and economic justice:
1. Stopping the Suspension of Driver's Licenses for Unpaid Fines and Court Fees
Under the budget amendment we passed Wednesday, Virginia will now reinstate driving licenses to more than 627,000 Virginians who currently have suspended licenses, not because of unsafe driving habits but because they haven’t fully paid all their fines or court fees. These fines are still owed and collectible, but for too many people, losing their license meant losing their job and making it virtually impossible for them ever to earn enough money to pay back the fines and fees they owe.
While African-Americans make up roughly 20% of Virginia’s population, they account for nearly half of all people whose licenses had been suspended under this policy. No doubt this is due to a greater rate of poverty among African-Americans in Virginia and the USA, itself a legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, unequal pay, and systemic racism. This budget language was an important step toward ending some of the unfair consequences of that legacy. We are not supposed to have debtors’ prisons in America anymore. So folks shouldn’t lose their jobs because of inability to pay a fine. I drove home to Alexandria on Wednesday knowing we had taken a critical step forward in criminal justice reform.
As the suspension of this practice was done through the budget rather than legislation, this policy will only be in place through the end of this budget (Fiscal Year 2020). But having passed this policy through the budget will make it easier for us to codify it next year through legislation.
This is a major step towards decriminalizing poverty in the Commonwealth.
2. We added $4 million more for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund.
Affordable housing, or the lack thereof, is one of the biggest issues facing Northern Virginia. The affordable housing trust fund is a critical tool for addressing affordable housing in the Commonwealth.
This increase of $4 million to the fund brings the two-year allocation to the fund to $18 million. Combined with Virginia’s upcoming allocation of $4,672,562 from the National Housing Trust Fund, Virginia will have over $13 million to invest in affordable housing in 2019-2020 and at least another $9 million in 2020-21. In Alexandria, the Carpenter's Shelter has utilized these funds to create more affordable units for lower-income households by writing down the cost of construction.
At the groundbreaking of the new Bloom/Carpenter's Shelter affordable housing units in Alexandria.
But those weren't the only solid budget amendments we passed.
- We established a Balance Billing workgroup to evaluate options to prohibit the practice of balance billing by out-of-network health care providers for emergency services rendered, and to establish equitable and fair reimbursement for these health care providers. I drafted my own legislation on the issue this year (HB2426, HB2427), but it failed to pass on party-line votes. I've also worked with constituents to lower their health care costs, but it hasn't been easy under current Virginia law.
- Authorizing the use of funds provided for flood control studies in the Hampton Roads and the Northern Neck regions for a comparable study in the Northern Virginia region. Anyone who's visited Old Town after a heavy rainstorm knows we need to mitigate flooding in Northern Virginia.
While overall a successful reconvene session, we didn't get everything we wanted.
Republicans successfully killed some really good budget amendments:
Amendments to reverse the unnecessary restriction of state funds for critical healthcare currently provided to Virginia women
- Amendments to remove language that would restrict the Commonwealth’s ability to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and use proceeds from it to address the negative effects of climate change.
- Amendments to allow state agencies to use body-worn cameras (including cameras they have already purchased but have been prohibited by the Republican-majority legislature from using).
- Making Virginia’s tax code fairer by ensuring that low-income taxpayers with tax credits (149,000 taxpayers with incomes of less than $50,000) can receive the same refund as others.
- $1.5 million to promote the Census and better ensure that each person in Virginia is counted. An accurate census count is critical to guaranteeing everyone in the Commonwealth receives all of the federal representation and funding we are due.
In the Community
Providing an update on the legislative session to fired up Alexandria Democrats.
With a small but fired up group of activists demanding the release of the full Mueller Report.
At the Leadership Center for Excellence's Legislative Breakfast with all of the Arlington Delegation.
Speaking with Alexandria Democratic Committee Precinct Captains.
Tuesday, April 9
7:00 - 8:00 pm
Alexandria Delegation Post-Session Wrap Up
Alexandria City Hall, Council Chambers
301 King St., Alexandria
Fundraiser for Democratic Caucus Chair Charniele Herring
5:00 - 7:00 pm
801 King St., Alexandria
1015 N. Quincy St., Arlington
403 N 3rd St., Richmond
Post-Session Legislative Forum
2701-C Wilson Boulevard, Arlington
403 N 3rd St., Richmond
It is always my honor and privilege to serve you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District