LINKS ON COVID-19:
MARK IN THE NEWS:
Reforming the Police
Alexandria Gazette Packet
Several Criminal Justice Reform Bills Quickly Pass Through Senate Panel
Virginia Public Radio
Committee Kills Vaccine Opt-Out Legislation
Virginia Public Radio
Virginia's gun-control debate shifts to empowered localities
Or by mail and phone:
900 East Main Street, Suite E208
Richmond, VA 23219
301 King St
Alexandria, VA 22314
I am hosting Mark's Monthly Meetup this afternoon! Click here to join.
I will again be hosting it via Zoom. As always, we'll be discussing whatever issues are important to you, but I suspect the primary focus will be on our legislative agenda for our current Special Session.
Mark's Monthly Meetup
Sunday, August 30, 1 - 3 pm
Join via Zoom
Join the conversation by clicking here.
(Join and download Zoom for FREE by clicking here.)
If you don't have access to Zoom, you can also call in to join the discussion: (929) 205-6099
Meeting ID: 834 0284 1861
The General Assembly's Special Session called by Governor Northam has begun. We are focusing on passing a new budget, COVID-19 relief measures, and police and justice reforms.
The House of Delegates has already passed some extremely important bills for COVID relief, protecting Virginians from eviction, and bolstering the safety and fairness of our General Election, which I detail below.
The House of Delegates first convened on August 18 in Virginia Commonwealth University's Siegel Center gymnasium, where the high ceilings allowed for good air circulation to prevent the spread of any dangerous particles that might have made it past the masks we were wearing, and the ample space allowed for proper social distancing.
Since then, we have been meeting virtually. Unfortunately the Republicans tried to derail our virtual sessions by contesting a rules change. This ended up wasting Virginia taxpayers more than $100,000 and a week of delay by requiring us to meet five unnecessary days to do our rules change "by the book." I suspect the real goal was to obstruct us from doing the police and criminal justice reform and COVID relief that we think Virginia needs.
Virginia's first ever virtual Floor session
Since before the special session was called by Governor Northam, I had been meeting with colleagues, constituents, advocacy groups, experts, and activists to make sure that we respond to the intersecting pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism in a way that does justice to the will of the people and meets this historic moment.
I am deeply grateful to all of the people who have been communicating with my fellow policymakers and me - in the streets, on teleconferences, on our social media pages, and in our email inboxes - about what needs to be done.
We went right to work.
Bills the House of Delegates Has Already Passed
I am proud to have signed on as a Co-Patron to every one of the below bills. We passed all of these bills on Friday, August 28.
Supporting Safe, Secure Voting:
HB5103 establishes ballot drop boxes (like the one pictured below), provides funding for pre-paid postage for absentee ballots, and makes it safer to vote by mail-in absentee ballot by saying that missing a witness signature is no longer a "material" problem with a ballot that would render it to be void.
HB5041 directs the Board of Health and Social Services to adopt regulations for voluntary electronic monitoring at nursing homes.
HB5046 advances innovations in telehealth to make sure people can get healthcare without risking exposure to COVID-19.
HB5048 mandates transparency requirements for congregate-care facilities during a public health emergency. I had written the Governor and Attorney General at the outset of the pandemic about the necessity to disclose this information to the public. Now, this bill will make clear that is legal to do so.
HB5064 requires landlords to offer rent repayment plan opportunities for tenants negatively impacted by COVID-19.
HB5115 protects housing security for individuals and families negatively impacted by COVID-19.
Making Virginia More Equitable:
HB5052 codifies Juneteenth as an official holiday in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
We also passed a Resolution that I co-patroned to commend Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Semyon Vindman, who bravely testified to Congress in the impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump. Colonel Vindman was fired by Donald Trump for telling the truth about Trump's bribery of Ukraine with American tax dollars to influence our elections. (Trump offered American arms to the Ukraine leader in exchange for making up false criminal allegations against Joe Biden.) Vindman had promised his father -- who came from the totalitarian country of Russia -- that in America, we don't punish people for telling the truth.
But the President proved Vindman's father right after all. Instead of upholding American values, Trump brought Russian totalitarian values to America. After more than 21 years of exemplary military service, Trump illegally fired Vindman in express political retaliation for obeying a lawfully issued subpoena and for testifying truthfully under penalty of perjury. Trump insisted Colonel Vindman perjure himself or refuse to testify if he wanted to keep his job, but Vindman courageously followed the law and told America the truth. So the President illegally fired him and, for good measure, his twin brother too. (Trump didn't give a reason for this, although I presume he fired Vindman's twin brother for the same reason the Wicked Witch of the West went after Toto...)
Colonel Vindman put his country before his career, and that is worthy of commending.
If you believe in Democracy and the Rule of Law,
A short digression:
Vindman's case reminds me why it is so important to vote this fall. Democrats and Republicans have a fundamental disagreement about the role of the Constitution and the Rule of Law in America. Republicans insist President Trump is above the law, whereas Democrats insist that the Constitution and our laws are legally binding. But as impeachment failed, it is up to the American People to decide whether or not the President is above the law. Re-electing Donald Trump would make clear our Constitution's vaunted checks and balances have finally been discarded. (Oh well. They did last 231 years. A good long run for the world's oldest constitutional republic!)
Poor Colonel Vindman. He actually believed in the principles of the pre-Trumpian United States of America and believed our constitutional system could actually work. So he thought that just because it was illegal to fire him, Trump wouldn't do it. But, of course, most of us are no longer surprised by Trump's blatant corruption and illegality. As his abuse of power reaches new heights daily, Trump regularly breaks serious criminal laws and previously-adhered-to basic ethical norms. Just this week, one of his sons plead the Fifth Amendment to avoid criminal prosecution, while a bipartisan Senate panel firmly established that the Trump Campaign did collude with Russia after all. (Didn't get much news though. Did it?)
Yawn. Actions some might call treason are just another day in Trumpland. The President's hearty embrace of bribery and his open abuse of power is why this President was impeached in the first place. Meanwhile our broken conservative-dominated Supreme Court teeters around the edges but refuses to do something so simple as enforce a Congressional subpoena. I almost feel bad for Richard Nixon, since Nixon's crimes pale in comparison with our current wannabe dictator's. At least, the Supreme Court in 1974 quickly held Nixon accountable for his crimes while Nixon was still President. But under the current regime, only a post-presidential Trump can ever be prosecuted.
As if to illustrate clearly that Republicans believe long-standing American laws and centuries of established norms are just so "quaint" but destined to be ignored, the Republican National Convention was illegally celebrated at the White House and at Fort McHenry in express violation of the eighty-year-old Hatch Act and 230 years of America's tradition of not using the People's House and other government property for political purposes.
Finally, as if to make clear, that Trump doesn't give a damn about anyone other than himself, he subjected his supporters to a crowded, maskless "super spreader" event, of a similar nature to the one he held in Tulsa that killed Herman Cain. The President was determined to get applause even though it will literally kill his supporters to give it to him. I wonder how many of them will die from Thursday's event. I feel bad for whoever does, but so-called smart people should know better. I guess that's what death cults do: they kill. Jim Jones' supporters drank Kool-Aid, while Trumpists recklessly expose themselves and others to COVID-19. At least Jones' cult followers had the decency not to kill too many of their fellow Americans when they killed themselves...
If you are a fan of totalitarianism and death cults, by all means, vote for Donald Trump.
As for me, I will proudly cast my ballot for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, for Senator Mark Warner, for Congressman Don Beyer, and NO on Amendment 1 (to bring back Republican gerrymandering of Virginia's district lines).
Do you have your ballot yet?
Early voting begins September 18. No excuse necessary any longer. (That's a law we changed.)
I Introduced the "Good Apples Bill"
It passed out of Committee
I am honored to introduce and be the Chief Patron for HB5112.
Thursday, this bill passed the Courts of Justice Committee on which I serve.
The bill does three important things:
1. It makes it a duty for officers to report acts of wrongdoing by their fellow officers.
The bill defines wrongdoing as "a violation, which is not of a merely technical or minimal nature, of federal or state law or regulation, local ordinance, or rule of an officer's law-enforcement agency designed to protect the interests of the public and includes bias-based profiling."
This is very important because it hits at the all-too-common culture in police agencies that says officers protect one another at all costs, and if you step out of line by reporting bad behavior, you are the one who risks becoming a pariah among your fellow officers.
I think mandating reporting of "bad apples" will help improve community trust in the police.
2. It amends the definition of "bias-based profiling" to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
3. It requires law enforcement officers on duty to aid people suffering from serious bodily injury or life-threatening conditions.
Officers must face repercussions if they protect "bad apple" officers.
If you want to read the bill in its entirety, click here. The highlighted sections are the new language I am proposing be added to the Virginia code.
While I remain hopeful that this bill will ultimately pass with broad bipartisan support, the bill passed out of committee on a pure party-line vote.
Think about that. House Republicans claim to be a party that supports the law, and yet don't think officers - the people who take an oath to uphold and enforce the law of the land - should be required to report their fellow officers' wrongdoing. They think it's okay if an officer covers for another's bad behavior on the job. This is the sort of thing that undermines peoples' trust in law enforcement.
When will Republicans support Law and Order?
Democrats think "Law and Order" means obeying the law and respecting the national order, which includes the right of the people under the First Amendment to peaceably assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. No Democrat supports violence, but we understand that the militarization of police too often leads to more violence. Not less.
What do Republicans think Law and Order means?
Here's a hint:
Until the day police treat an unarmed Black man or peaceful protesters better than a 17-year-old White Trumpist terrorist just after he illegally killed two protesters with his AR-15, the protests will continue.
The events in Kenosha, Wisconsin are shameful and remind us that systemic racism and police brutality remain prevalent and must be rooted out in their entirety. That's exactly what we are striving to do, through law, at the Special Session.
The Virginia House Democrats' Budget Priorities
Voting on the budget will be tough in Special Session, because we are expecting budget shortfalls of $2.7 billion in Fiscal Year 2021 and $1.7 billion in FY2022 GF. COVID-19 has forced us to completely go back to the drawing board since we passed the most progressive budget in Virginia history in early March, before the pandemic kicked into high gear. COVID took us from the greatest surplus in Virginia history to the greatest deficit.
House Democrats are prioritizing funding for:
preserving key critical service
protecting Virginians from homelessness and housing insecurity;
supporting a safe and secure general election;
broadband access to support K-12 remote learning for all of Virginia's students,
investing in higher education;
advancements in telehealth;
ensuring adequate supplies of PPE for frontline workers; and
funding the police and criminal justice reform measures that pass during the special session.
Fortunately, I know that Governor Northam shares these priorities. You can read his statement on his priorities by clicking here. His priorities include:
pre-paid postage for absentee ballots and secure ballot drop-off boxes
$88 million towards preventing evictions and expanding affordable housing ($85 million to the Virginia Housing Trust Fund and $3.3 million in funding to establish an Eviction Prevention and Diversion Pilot Program);
extending the moratorium on evictions until at least April 30, 2021, tied to the requirement that landlords and tenants work together on a payment plan and seek out financial assistance (I would also support a freeze on rent increases during this timeframe as well);
extending the moratorium on utility disconnections for electric, water and natural gas utilities until 60 days after the current state of emergency ends;
$85 million to expand broadband access to unserved communities; and,
$15 million for public Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
For in depth details on Governor Northam's proposed budget, I encourage you to visit the Department of Planning and Budget's website.
I look forward to reviewing what comes out of the House Appropriations Committee and taking the many emails I've received on the budget into consideration before casting my vote.
This building will be turned into a museum on the evils of slavery.
A better future starts with recognizing the sins of our past.
I am pleased to say that one big priority of mine is in the Governor's budget: restoring $2.4 million in funding to the City of Alexandria to purchase the old Franklin and Armfield Slaveholding Headquarters and turn it into a museum detailing all that happened here in Alexandria and Virginia. I pressed the Governor hard to preserve this funding. We cannot heal America from racial injustice without a full understanding of what happened to cause the vast inequalities of wealth and unfair legal system and racist cultural practices we still struggle with today. Alexandria once had the largest Slave-Trading Business in the entire USA. This building and its world-class museum will tell a story that must be told. I thought it was essential to re-include it our budget.
The Courts of Justice and Public Safety Committees Pass Numerous Justice and Police Reform Bills
In addition to my work on the Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee, which passed the telemedicine and outbreak transparency bills mentioned above, I proudly serve on the two committees that have seen the most important justice and police reforms coming through the House of Delegates: Courts of Justice, and Public Safety. So, I wanted to share a little about what we did in those committees over the past week.
First, you should know that the House Democrats' justice and police reform agenda is rooted what we learned when the House Courts of Justice and Public Safety Committees held three joint hearings in July and August to prepare legislation and hear from subject matter experts. We learned from a wide range of experts - from policy experts, public defenders, law enforcement leaders, community organizers, and Virginian citizens - about various issues to think about.
I have been pushing hard for an ambitious reform agenda, and while I think we can go even further (just one example: I will be pushing for marijuana legalization during the 2021 session), I think if we can pass the reforms listed below, we'll be off to a good start in making Virginia a safer and more equitable place.
In addition to my bill HB5112, the following bills were passed out of either the Courts of Justice Committee or the Public Safety Committee this week:
- Strengthening prosecutorial ability to dismiss charges. Commonwealth's Attorneys are elected by the people. Judges are not. If a Commonwealth's Attorney decides to drop a charge, a judge shouldn't be able to simply overturn it. Arlington judges in particular have been on the wrong side of the law here, and I've been extremely disappointed in their conduct.
- Eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement officers. Law enforcement officers must know that they can be held civilly liable if they violate someone's Constitutional rights.
- Prohibiting no-knock warrants. This would prevent anything like what happened to Breonna Taylor from happening in Virginia.
- Banning the use of chokeholds and other lethal restraints used by law enforcement.
- Creating a statewide Marcus Alert system to ensure that mental health professionals respond to mental health crises.
- Strengthening laws related to Citizen Review Panels.
- Eliminating certain pretextual police stops - like the smell of marijuana, or a hanging air freshener - which disproportionately harm Virginians of color.
- Demilitarizing police departments by prohibiting the acquisition and use of certain weapons by law enforcement agencies.
- Banning sexual relations between officers and arrestees.
- Empowering the Attorney General to conduct “pattern or practice” investigations of police forces that appear to be violating constitutional rights, including unlawful discrimination. (Office of Attorney General bill)
- Expanding the definition of hate crimes to include false 911 calls made on the basis of race. Police are not personal convenience enforcers or a tool to use to threaten others.
- Standardizing and enhancing training for all police academies.
- Requiring an officer intervene during the misconduct of another officer.
- Strengthening the assessments and vetting required before hiring law enforcement officers.
- Diversifying the Department of Criminal Justice Services’ Committee on Training. And
- Making it easier for citizens to review certain case files when no action has been taken on a case. This will help people falsely convicted of crimes and, as I explain below, help family's victims gain justice.
Again, thank you to the many advocates across Virginia who met with me in the lead up to this session.
Meeting with Lucy Beadnell and Tonya Milling from the ARC of Virginia.
Meeting with Valerie and Evelyn from the Coalition for Transforming Police.
Meeting with activists and advocates from Racial Justice Alexandria.
You may be thrilled with the agenda described above. You may like what you see but think we are not going far enough. Some of you may disagree with this completely.
So, I want to make two things clear:
I want to hear from my constituents. Email me your thoughts on any of this, and I will take your letter into consideration before I vote on any relevant legislation or the budget. My email is on the left column. Even if - especially if - you disagree with me, let me know.
This is the beginning. We cannot possibly do in one Special Session everything we need to do to completely dismantle the systemic racism that has plagued Virginia and the USA for centuries. We are aiming to tackle the areas where there is broad agreement among the majority of the legislature this summer and I look forward to a more robust discussion about all of these issues this January and February at our 2021 regular session.
It's never too soon to let me know what you want to see from me next session.
THIS MONTH A CENTURY AGO:
The 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment
On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. The amendment stated:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."
We should recognize that Black women had to fight to have their right to vote recognized for another 45 years, and that the fight against voter suppression continues to this day.
Still, it's glorious to remember how far America has come in the last century, even as we work on addressing how far it has yet to go in the next.
We stand on the shoulders of giants.
I thank you again for the honor and privilege of serving you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Proudly serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax
in the Virginia House of Delegates