Representing Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax

Newsletter - February 11, 2018

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Mark in the News

LGBTQ Protections Killed at General Assembly ... Again
Style Weekly

Virginia House panel kills bills to ban anti-LGBT discrimination in housing, jobs 
The Roanoke Times

Va. House subcommittee kills four pro-LGBT bills
Washington Blade

Virginia Republicans kill all pro-LGBTQ housing and employment bills
Metro Weekly

OPINION: Our Rights Are Held Captive By a Gerrymandered General Assembly

Northam, Herring speak at Equality Virginia Lobby Day
Washington Blade

Pro-LGBT bills down in flames in GOP House 
Augusta Free Press


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GOP Attacks LGBT Virginians ... Again (HB 401)

Delegate Danica Roem and I watch Virginia Republicans vote against equality for LGBT Virginians.

Last week, reportedly upon direct orders from the Republican Leadership, the Virginia GOP once again killed all bills aimed at preventing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Virginians. My bill, HB 401, was the most comprehensive. It would have banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment, public accommodations, public contracting, insurance, and banking. It would also have codified existing non-discrimination executive orders that protect Virginians from being discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, pregnancy, age, marital status, disability, or status as a veteran.

Who you are or who you love should not determine whether you are able to get a job or rent a home. You should be judged only on whether you can do the work and pay the rent. The vast majority of Virginians agree with this basic principle. Paraphrasing Dr. King, you should be judged by the content of your character and not the color of your skin.

But the Virginia GOP didn't get the memo. As you'll see from watching the hearing below, they block-killed not only my bill but even more modest measures that only prevented discrimination in employment or housing, bills which passed 3/4 of the Virginia Senate. And it happened, of course, on a party-line vote.

The hearing room was filled beyond capacity. But the powerful testimony and suffering of Virginians from all walks of life failed to sway a single Republican vote. Scientific studies showing that 44% of all gay and lesbian Virginians seeking housing face discrimination left Republicans similarly unmoved. Former Republican Delegate Bill Janis testified, without noting the obvious contradiction, that the bills we proposed would both do nothing because few currently sue and wreak havoc with massive numbers of lawsuits. The logic of his testimony, of course, implied that no anti-discrimination laws should exist in Virginia or the USA.

The audience was eloquent, but to me, the most eloquent testimony of all was from my fellow Democratic Delegate Delores McQuinn, who spoke passionately of the racial and misogynist prejudice she and her family had suffered and why discrimination demeans us all.

Although it lasted about an hour, I urge you to watch at least part of the video of this powerful hearing.

True progress takes time. When I first got involved in the marriage-equality movement 20 years ago, the vast majority of elected leaders, Democrat and Republican, opposed it. When I wrote the first bill introduced in the nation to give full marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples after working hard to elect a state legislator in California who would introduce it, the pushback was fierce. And yet, some fifteen years later, what was considered even by most gay activists to be impossible became a reality.

I have zero doubt that we shall overcome someday. And someday very soon. As soon as two more Democrats are elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, this bill will become law with solid majorities. The truth is even most Virginia Republicans support equality under the law. It's just a shame they elected a Leadership that has demanded Republicans keep unfair discrimination legal in Virginia.

Helping Virginia's Distressed Communities

Unbeknownst to me at the time, a photographer captured my fist bump with Delegate Will Morefield.

The Washington Post yesterday captured a picture of the back of my head as I fist-bumped Delegate Will Morefield, a Republican from one of the poorest sections of Virginia. Morefield, from Southwest Virginia, is working with my good friend, Democratic Delegate Lashrecse Aird, from the struggling majority-black city of Petersburg, to revitalize their areas by encouraging out-of-state companies to relocate there.

I am proud to support their bipartisan efforts and have co-patroned HB222 to make it happen.

Weekly Legislative Update

Last week, the week before Crossover (when all House bills must pass to the Senate or die) is typically the busiest week of the session. This time was no different. In addition to the LGBT-rights bill described above, I argued six other bills last week. Unfortunately, most of them died due to either Republican procedural machinations or a party-line vote.

But I don't give up easily. I intend to bring most of these bills back next year, and I am confident that when we have a Democratic majority, these bills will pass easily.

Success for the Regional Gas Tax Floor! (HB 699)

Let's start with the good news:

On Friday, the House Committee on Appropriations passed a very important bill out of Committee. HB768 sets a gas-tax floor for Northern Virginia so that we have sufficient revenue for our local transportation needs. This bill fixes an important error in the 2013 legislation that allowed Northern Virginia transportation revenue to fluctuate with the cost of gasoline. Now even when gas prices are low, we will still have revenue to meet our needs. While the bill did not go as far as my 2018 bill, HB699, a version of which I also introduced in 2016 and 2017, it is quite similar to my more modest 2016 version.

I'm optimistic this bipartisan bill will finally pass into law. I know how important transportation is to Northern Virginia, both vehicle transportation and alternative modes. After a three-year-long effort, I'm proud to finally announce a bill that will give us necessary funds to improve our transportation infrastructure.

Unfortunately my other efforts were not as successful. Republicans killed a number of measures I introduced, often using procedural gimmicks as you'll see below.

GOP Kills Bill to Ban 300% Predatory Loans (HB 404)

While Virginia has meager regulations in place for payday and title lenders, it has little regulation for "open-end" credit lenders who make predatory loans for struggling Virginians at an unlimited interest rate. Both my staff and I have personally received notices from an out-of-state company that promised to loan us $1000 today but required us to pay it back at an interest rate of 299% buried deep in the fine print. Compounded monthly at this interest rate, this loan would cost anyone desperate enough to accept this offer more than $15,000 in interest if they were to try to pay the $1,000 in just one year. (In two years, the interest cost would be greater than $200,000.) 

A mailing I received for a $1,000 loan. Can you find the 299% interest rate? Look carefully!

There are legitimate businesses in Virginia that charge a quite hefty rate of 36%, which, though very high, is at least low enough to allow many debtors to repay it. But some unscrupulous out-of-state lenders, like the one I show above, know that once you take a loan from them, you will be on the hook for all your income to them for the rest of your life (or until you finally declare bankruptcy).

Unfortunately the Republicans on the subcommittee had very little concern for people trying to make ends meet or desperately needing money for the medical bills of a loved one. With no discussion whatsoever, they simply killed the bill.

GOP Chair Says No to Virginians Wanting to Visit Family Members with Dementia (HB 406)

A few weeks ago, HB406, my bill which would have allowed people with guardians to be able to contact their loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer's, passed subcommittee on a 6-1 vote. Unfortunately, the one vote against the legislation was the subcommittee chairman Republican Delegate Greg Habeeb who placed tremendous pressure on his colleagues to kill the bill. Habeeb got the bill sent back to his subcommittee where he carefully waited until the bill's supporters had left the room to present their own bills and then quickly twisted the arms of two of his colleagues to make the legislation fail on a 3-3 revote. Even though I had a solid majority of the committee supporting the legislation, the Chair steadfastly refused to allow the bill to be on the agenda at any time when its supporters were in the room.

Obviously, I was not pleased these procedural machinations would be used to kill a bill with such broad bipartisan support, including two Republican co-patrons in the House and Senate. I promise to bring the bill back year after year until it becomes law.

Gimmick Dashes Effort to Protect Children from Child Abuse and Domestic Violence (HB 807)

Child abuse and domestic violence should never be partisan issues. I think everyone, Democratic and Republican, should want children not to be placed in abusive households. Yet Republicans took a straightforward bill to prevent child abuse and domestic violence and made it into a partisan issue.

Despite a strong, bipartisan 5-2 vote in subcommittee, this bill to require courts to consider child abuse and domestic violence in child custody determinations was sent back to a different subcommittee for a rehearing this week. Advocates were perplexed by the decision, as the Courts of Justice Committee typically divides its work up into subcommittees based on whether the bill is civil or criminal. The Republicans who run the committee referred the bill to a subcommittee which usually handles criminal matters and should not have had jurisdiction over the bill. That subcommittee defeated the measure on a party-line 3-3 vote.

Apparently this procedural maneuver was a ploy by Republicans who knew that they did not have sufficient votes to stop the legislation in the appropriate subcommittee or in the full committee. It was my hope that the 2017 election results would have put an end to these kinds of partisan procedural games with important bills that would protect the most vulnerable, but it is clear that it's going to take a Democratic majority to do that.

Part of the reason for the bill dying is that the Virginia Family Law Coalition -- many of whose advocates make substantial money from defending abusive parents -- had for three years opposed legislation to include a parent's long history of child abuse and domestic violence in custody decisions if that abuse or violence occurred outside a person's current family. But if there's one thing many have learned from the #MeToo movement, it's that most perpetrators of child abuse and domestic violence do not act once; they repeat a pattern of abuse from one intimate partner to the next. If a man brutally abuses one child, why are we to think the next child would be immune? Shouldn't courts be able to consider this evidence? 

I worked with several family lawyers and even some FLC members to change the opinion of the FLC leadership to get them finally to take serial domestic violence and child abuse seriously and endorse this legislation. (They had refused to work with me until we had the votes to do it over their objections.) But now, with strong, bipartisan support and with the support of the Family Law Coalition, this bill should have become law. I look forward to bringing the legislation back again next year and finally getting this accomplished. But I'm just so sorry that in the meantime, so many Virginian children will continue to suffer abuse because some have put their politics or their incomes ahead of protecting vulnerable children.

GOP Rejects Virginia Tech Jobs Law (HB 1269) 

Virginia is a national leader in technology. I introduced HB 1269, the Electronic Identity Management Act, to change an archaic definition to allow for growth in technology jobs in the new field of federated electronic identities, which allows digital identity verification across multiple electronic platforms. Unfortunately, Republicans didn’t see fit to pass this measure, which cost nothing and would have boosted business and jobs in Virginia’s technology sector. Like much of the legislation I presented last week, it died on a party-line vote.

Republicans Spurn Paid Family Leave (HB 40) 

On Tuesday, I presented HB 40, my plan to provide up to 60 days of paid maternity and paternity leave, as well as paid leave to take care of dying or seriously ill parents, spouses, or children. It would have been completely funded by a very small 0.2% tax on wages (only $100 for someone making $50,000 a year). And it would have spared Virginia's families from having to make heart-wrenching decisions about whether or not to abandon family members at the time of their greatest need in order to buy food or pay rent. There's been a lot of talk about family values over the years, and this bill is what family values are really all about. Unfortunately, the Republicans defeated the bill on a party-line vote.

Next Mark's Monthly Meetup

Los Tios in Del Ray
Sunday, February 25 at 2 pm 

Please join me for the February Mark's Monthly Meetup at Los Tios Mexican restaurant in Del Ray (2615 Mount Vernon Avenue in Alexandria).

And if you miss February, there's always March, April, or May. Every month, I make sure to be available in this informal setting for any constituent who wishes to discuss a problem or just say hello.

Meeting with Constituents in Richmond

Delegate Danica Rome and Mark Levine
Equality Virginia Reception

Mark meeting with the Mount Vernon/Lee Chamber of Commerce

Mark meeting with member of Equality Virginia
and Executive Director James Parrish

It is always my honor and privilege to serve you.

Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District