Representing Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax

Newsletter - February 13, 2020

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Chair, Public Safety

Committee Assignments:
Courts of Justice
Privileges & Elections
Public Safety
Health, Welfare, & Institutions



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Batting 1.000 at Crossover Deadline

On Monday morning, I gave you the pre-crossover count:

Thirteen bills passed the House and were sent to the Senate as of last weekend... and
Thirteen bills headed to the House Floor for the last two days prior to Crossover.

I'm proud to say that every single one of these bills succeeded!

Now, please remember. This is just halftime. There's certainly no guarantee all 25 bills will become law. In fact, I'm sadly expecting that many of my bills may well not escape Senate scrutiny. But I'm proud to have gotten this far, and I will push hard to see that every one of the 25 bills I proposed gets a fair and complete hearing, with the hope that I can pass as many of them as possible.

Let the second half begin!

Full Transparency for the Virginia Legislature

In the newsletter I sent out on Monday, I wrote you about HB182, my bill to bring full transparency to the Virginia General Assembly and the Speaker's commitment to incorporate that bill into the House Rules for 2021 and beyond.

The other twelve bills went to the House Floor. All passed.
I will have a total of 25 bills in the Senate.

1. Teaching Teachers How to Handle Disruptive Students with Compassion

On Monday, the House voted to pass HB894 by a vote of 97-2. The bill requires all of Virginia's incoming public school teachers to have training on best practices for conflict prevention and de-escalation. It will help schools avoid restraint and seclusion wherever possible when working with disruptive students. Thank you to Alexandria School Board member Meagan Alderton and Alex Sprague, who advocates for people with autism. They both helped me to formulate this proposal.

2. Fairness in Electoral Recounts (Shelly Simonds Law)

In the newsletter I sent out on Monday, I wrote about HB179, the "Shelly Simonds bill" to prevent the unfairness of "discovering" a vote after a recount is completed.

3. Voter-Verifiable Paper Records

I also wrote about HB1053, which ensures every vote in the Commonwealth is backed up by a voter-verifiable paper record.

Both passed through the House uncontested on Tuesday!

But none of these bills faced much opposition in committee, so I did not suspect they would pose much trouble on the House floor.

The next three bills would not be as easy...

4. National Popular Vote

HB177 — a bill that, as I explained in my Monday newsletter, was dead just two weeks ago, only to be resurrected at the last moment in committee on Friday — would have Virginia join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a compact of 16 states and DC (so far) that currently totals 196 electoral votes. If Virginia adds our 13 votes and gets us to 209 votes, we are only 61 votes away from using the Electoral College to render the Electoral College obsolete. And we will finally let person with the most votes become President of the United States.

If you know me, you know I don't give up easily. I had lobbied my Democratic colleagues in committee to switch their votes to support the measure. Then, it was off to the House floor, where I defended the bill in the face of repeated tough questioning...

Click the image above to watch my presentation of HB177, the National Popular Vote Compact, on the House floor.

But I wasn't done yet! On Tuesday, the day of the vote, I again had to defend HB177 against a Republican challenge. Republicans think that the voters of Vermont, Wyoming, Delaware, and DC should have their votes carry four times the weight of every single Virginia voter. Yikes!

I couldn't disagree more. I think all American citizens should be treated equally under the law, as I describe in the videos above (Monday) and below (Tuesday).

Click on the image above to watch the debate and House vote to pass the National Popular Vote Compact, a bill that was dead two weeks ago.

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5. Protecting Animals from Inhumane Tethering

HB1552 outlaws inhumane treatment of pets by preventing the tying up of animals not well suited and equipped for an inhospitable outdoor environment. The bill was suggested to me by my constituents, including Boyd Walker, Tessa Read, and Ali Carruthers.

On Monday I was warned that Republicans would try to weaken this bill, but I promised to fight such amendments. I am proud to report not only that I successfully fought any such amendments, but also that...nearly 2/3 of my colleagues in the House joined me in voting to pass HB1552 into law! 

Click the link above to watch me present HB1552 to my colleagues on Monday.

Watch the video of the vote below.

Click the image above to watch the vote on HB1552.

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6. Assault Weapons Restrictions

And finally, my most controversial bill ever, HB961 -- the assault weapons regulation bill that I'm carrying on behalf of Governor Northam -- came up for a vote in the House on Tuesday. 

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I am proud to be carrying a bill that will help save lives by reducing fatalities during a mass murder.

The NRA asked thousands of gun enthusiasts from all across the nation to drown my facebook page in misinformation and nasty insults in the hope they would intimidate me and get me to back down. But the intimidation campaign did not succeed. 

85% of mass murders over the last 40 years were conducted with assault firearms.

And during the federal ban on these weapons, fatalities were reduced by 70%.

I spoke with the relatively small number of gun owners who approached me respectfully on the bill and made substantial compromises with them. There won't be a ban on possession: only a ban on purchase or sale. There's an exception for off-duty and retired law enforcement. We took out the silencer ban and reduced the crime of possessing a large-capacity magazine from a felony to a misdemeanor. But there will still be a ban on large-capacity magazines (magazines holding more than 12 bullets).

In Tucson and in Nashville, lives were saved during mass murder because brave citizens were able to tackle gunmen while the killers were changing their magazines.

Hunters don't find these weapons particularly useful.
People don't need them for self-defense. 
Shooters at the range can change magazines in seconds.

But mass murderers will be hampered.

HB961 will save lives.

So we brought it to the House floor for a full emotional debate, where I was challenged by Delegate Nick Freitas and others.

Click the image above to watch the full debate on HB961.

And finally, early Tuesday afternoon — on the very last day to pass bills through the House, HB961 came to a vote. Click the image below to watch the result.

Click on the image above to watch the close vote tally on HB961.

But That's Not All!

7. Protecting Domestic Violence Victims from Guns

HB900, my bill to bar people with domestic violence convictions from owning or purchasing guns, legislation I've introduced in the past, was incorporated into Delegate Kathleen Murphy's HB1288, which passed the House by a vote of 52-47.

8. Decriminalizing Marijuana

HB301, my marijuana decriminalization bill, was incorporated into fellow Alexandria Delegate and Majority Leader Charniele Herring's bill HB972. While I still support legalization and regulation, this bill would take Virginia three quarters of the way there, with only a $25 fine for marijuana possession and no criminal record. On Monday, nearly 2/3 of the House agreed, voting to pass the bill 64-34.

9. Ending Surprise Health-Care Billing

HB189 bans "balance billing," the practice by which hospitals after surgery bill patients for the balance of their surgical procedures, even when rendered by out-of-network providers patients had no reason to suspect would be involved. My bill would end this practice. 

Delegate Luke Torian (HB1251) introduced an identical bill, so mine was incorporated into his, and it passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 94-5 on Tuesday.

10. Removing Virginia's Robert E. Lee from the Capitol

HB181 sets up a Commission to remove and replace Virginia's Robert E. Lee statue from the US Capitol in Washington. I was the first lawmaker in Virginia to introduce legislation to remove him.

Whatever you think of Robert E. Lee, he is hardly Virginia's "second-greatest Virginian!"

When my friend Delegate Jeion Ward wanted to present this identical bill this year, I deferred to her, thinking that the bill might better be presented by this well-respected African-American delegate. So my bill was incorporated into her identical bill, HB1406, which the House voted to pass the bill by a party-line vote of 55-44.

11. Tie Vote = New Election

My HB178, which requires any tied elections be resolved by a special election rather than by picking a piece of paper out of a bowl, was also inspired by the 2017 Shelly Simonds debacle. The bill was incorporated into Delegate Cia Price's HB198, which passed the House floor on a party-line vote of 55-44 on Tuesday.

12. Repeal Photo ID Requirement for Virginia Voters

HB190 is a very important bill to repeal Virginia's discriminatory Voter ID law and allow voters who do not have the proper unexpired photo ID to sign under penalty of perjury that they are who they say they are. It's virtually unheard of for folks to risk a multi-year prison term just to cast one vote. The bill was incorporated into Delegate Joe Lindsey's HB19, which passed through the House 57-43 on Tuesday.

Plus My 13 Bills that
Passed the House Pre-Crossover

13. HB1049the most comprehensive LGBT-non-discrimination bill ever introduced in Virginia history;

14. HB1050 incorporated into HB1663, to protect Virginians from discrimination in employment and public accommodations;

15. HB184, which bans predatory lending at very high interest rates, was incorporated into HB789, the comprehensive Fairness in Lending Act;

16. HB327, incorporated into HB582, to allow public sector employees to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions;

17. HB326, incorporated into HB416, to prohibit a prospective employer from requiring as a condition of employment that a prospective employee provide or disclose the prospective employee's wage or salary history

18. HB244, incorporated into HB1150, repeals current Virginia law requiring local law enforcement to do federal immigration work;

19. HB246 sets up the first Virginia law on police body-worn cameras and requires localities to adopt written guidelines with public comment prior to implementation so that body-camera use is driven by a consistent policy and not on an ad hoc basis.

20. HB861, which will ensure that courts take into consideration a parent's history of domestic violence and child abuse when making child custody determinations;

21. HB245repeals the crime of fornication, that is, of unmarried consenting adults having sex. (They can be legally married to other people, but it's a crime to be unmarried!)

22. HB180 removes race from being unconstitutionally required on a Virginia marriage license or divorce record;

23. HB863 makes it much easier for people who are not ordained ministers to become wedding officiants; and

24. HB321, which will make it easier for local officials to attend meetings electronically when a family member is ill; and

25. HB183 provides additional funding for localities to expand their law libraries;

Half-Successes on Fair Redistricting

You likely know by now that I'm not a fan of the redistricting constitutional amendment that passed through the Republican-majority General Assembly last year because it allows the Republican-appointed Virginia Supreme Court to gerrymander Virginia into oblivion. (If you don't know, take a look at some of my old newsletters which spell this out in exhaustive detail).

You also likely know that, because I want truly fair redistricting, I have submitted several of my own proposals to ensure a fair redistricting process when we redraw state legislative districts in 2021.

When a Privileges and Elections subcommittee voted on different redistricting proposals, I was disappointed my bills did not pass, but I did achieve some success. 

Prison Gerrymandering

My standalone bill to end prison gerrymandering, HB319, was laid on the table by the subcommittee but only because they had already voted to pass Delegate Cia Price's broader redistricting criteria bill that included several of these provisions. Delegate Price and I agree that Virginians should be counted in their home residences. Since folks in prison can't vote under current law, there's no reason they should be counted where they are involuntarily incarcerated. When they get out of prison, they will need services in their home communities. They should therefore be counted in their home communities rather than so as to increase the political power of their jailers. 

I would apply this same principle to out-of-staters. I see no reason why Marylanders, DCers, Kentuckians, and others from out-of-state should give more electoral power to the communities where they are imprisoned. After all, they can't vote in Virginia now. They didn't vote in Virginia before they were incarcerated. And they won't vote in Virginia after they are released. So why would we give communities with prisons more political power than the number of voters who reside in those communities?!

Like the infamous 3/5 clause -- where enslaved persons could not vote but their numbers gave slaveowners more political power -- I oppose a 5/5 clause to give prison communities more political power than they deserve, just because non-voting non-Virginians are involuntarily and temporarily incarcerated there. I will continue to fight to remove this provision from the bill. But other than this provision, I believe the measure that passed is a good bill on prison gerrymandering.

Criteria for Redistricting

Similarly, my HB1054, which set criteria for redistricting that included a mathematical guarantee of proportional representation, was incorporated into Delegate Price's criteria proposal, HB1255. I preferred my proposal to hers because it quantified a specific criterion of fairness. But I am proud to say that my idea of proportional fairness at the state level was incorporated into Delegate Price's bill.

An amendment to Delegate Price's bill added a very important paragraph 8:

8. A map of districts shall not, when considered on a statewide basis, unduly favor or disfavor any political party.

This is what I've been arguing all along, that "pretty shaped districts" can still be unfair on a statewide basis. I admit I'm not fan of the weasel-word "unduly," but I am glad that my position on statewide fairness will be incorporated into this criteria bill we are likely to pass on to the Senate. So I guess this is my 28th at least partially successful bill to pass the House, even though it's not the same bill I started with. HB1255 passed the House by a party-line 55-45 vote.

Redistricting Commissions

Because I oppose giving plenary power to the Virginia Supreme Court to gerrymander us to oblivion, I introduced two redistricting commission bills: HB1055 and HB1645.

HB1055 copied the language of the proposed constitutional amendment that passed the House last year and would have set up an identical legislative commission without involving the Supreme Court. It would have allowed anyone who liked the commission in the constitutional amendment to use the exact same commission that it provided.

HB1645 copied the language of OneVirginia2021's proposed constitutional amendment in 2019 (SJ274) and set up the identical independent commission they advocated for, in preference to the Supreme-Court amendment foisted on us on the last day of session last year.

Neither of my bills passed, because neither bill had the imprimatur of the Virginia Senate (The Senate! ) Delegate Price's HB1256 passed instead by a party-line vote of 54-45. As this bill sets up a commission that, if it fails several times, allows redistricting to go the legislature and the Governor, I supported it. I prefer an independent commission over the right-wing partisan Virginia Supreme Court.

HJ143 was my proposed amendment to enshrine a fair criteria bill -- with a mathematical criterion of fairness and an independent non-legislative commission -- in the Virginia Constitution. These would be true guardrails to make sure that no one could gerrymander Virginia again. The legislation was continued until 2021, when we can still vote on it in time for it to become part of our constitution in 2022.

To watch the committee's discussion on the proposals, and to learn more about the nuances and differences of the proposals, click the image below:

You can watch the committee hearing on redistricting by clicking the image.

I thank Boyd, Paul, and Annette for coming down from Northern Virginia to support my proposals.

While I am disappointed about my bills' failure to move forward, I look forward to supporting Delegate Price's bills. I've long said that it doesn't have to be my proposals that go forward, so long as we don't have to rely on the partisan Virginia Supreme Court. The Court has every incentive to gerrymander us, and I fear with the constitutional amendment proposed last year, we may have no legal way to stop them.

Virginia needs fair redistricting now.

Next Year...

If you've been counting, that's one transparency bill to go into the Rules, 25 bills to clear the House, four redistricting bills, and a constitutional amendment for next year.

Total of 31.

I told you in my February 3 newsletter about the five bills continued to next year and why:

1) Health Care Transparency;
2) Local Broadband;
3) Taxing Firearms for Mental Health;
4) Sealing Non-violent Drug Crimes; and
5) Sealing Crimes that are No Longer Crimes

Total = 36.

But I introduced 47 bills. What happened to the others?

And Now, the Bad News...

The other 11 bills did not move forward.

Here's what happened in a nutshell:

One bill died in appropriations:

1. My paid family medical bill was left in appropriations (HB328). It's a shame because it more than pays for itself, but there are start-up costs. I'm going to work to find a solution to this Catch-22 next year.

Three bills were never heard in subcommittee:

2/3. Two additional gun bills were not brought to committee. We decided to wait until next year since we had done so much gun regulation this year:
a) banning armor-piercing bullets (HB899) and 
b) taking guns away from those insane enough to be locked up (HB450

4. My bill putting a cap on campaign donations was also not brought to any subcommittee because the Senate killed a less restrictive bill (HB895). The thought was if Senators couldn't agree to a $5000 cap, they would never agree to my bill to match the Federal $2800 limit.

and one more bill, despite making it out of both subcommittee and committee, was continued to next year.

5. HB864 would have decriminalized HIV-positive people and others who have had sexually transmitted diseases by aligning Virginia's infected sexual battery law with the most up-to-date science and public health practices. In the February 3 newsletter, I showed you the video of the long debate we had in the Criminal Law subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee about how to protect both those who are at risk of getting disease and folks with no-longer-transmittable diseases. The bill would have made it no longer a criminal offense to have sex when you no longer pose a threat to others. 

Unfortunately, after making it out of both subcommittee and committee, the bill drew unexpected opposition from advocates for ending the criminalization of people with HIV, because they did not think the bill protected all HIV-positive people, including those that could still transmit the disease. I also wanted the bill to go farther. But if you watched the video of my presentation of the bill, my colleagues set clear limits as to how far they were willing to go. We had the votes to pass a limited version of it on the House Floor, but advocates made clear they preferred no progress over limited progress. So we put the bill back in committee and continued it to next year.

This was a sad case of "letting perfect be the enemy of the good." For yet another year, our criminal code will continue to punish people for being HIV-positive and fail to recognize the many medical improvements that have been made since the epidemic broke out in the 1980s. And frankly, unless either the advocates or my colleagues budge on this issue, I don't see much future for this bill ever becoming law.

If you are one of the intrepid folks who actually read every word of this newsletter, please let me know what you think. We work very hard on these newsletters. Did you play any of the videos?  Please let me know if this extensive effort -- which takes my staff and me at least 6-8 hours each -- is worthwhile to you.

Six other bills died in subcommittee...

but I only don't have room today to tell you about them!

Unfortunately (or fortunately, for those who think I'm too long-winded?), the email client I use (NGP-VAN) stops me when I go too long by limiting the length of emails I can send you.

So I'll have to save my six most spectacular failures for this weekend.

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This Weekend: The Greatest Disappointments

I still have my six greatest disappointments to share, but due to space concerns, they will have to wait until next newsletter. These six bills died in committee:

1) Allowing a local option for minimum wage;
2) Protecting pedestrians from careless drivers;
3) Court efficiency for domestic-violence victims;
4) Giving those evicted notice of state resources available to them
5) Banning discrimination in state-funded adoption; and
6) Restraining abusive guardians.

Each bill has its own story, of course, and video. 

While I'm proud of my successes, I think I owe it to you to share my disappointments as well. They are often learning tools for me, and I expect to come back with at least a variant of some of these proposals in 2021.

It is always my honor and privilege to serve you.

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