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Adoption Agency "Conscience Clause" is Target of Legislation
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The Second Impeachment Trial of Donald J. Trump
This week, we saw the best and the worst of American democracy. We saw a compelling case put on by the impeachment managers. We saw irrefutable video proof of the dangers of the Big Lie, particularly when a United States President loads propaganda as a weapon and fires it in the direction of the U.S. Congress.
We saw all 50 Democrats and seven brave Republicans stand up for our Republic. And we saw a craven 43 Republican Senators actually vote to countenance the attempted violent overthrow of our Republic by a President who wanted to overturn free and fair elections and impose himself as dictator. It should not be hard to condemn the first attempt in 230 years of our history to thwart the peaceful transfer of power. And, even though it was "expected," it was still a bit shocking to see 6 out of 7 Senate Republicans sell out their country in service of the Big Lie. If this is not impeachable, what is?
I tweeted about it.
This tweet drew the anger of Republicans defending the odious conduct:
To follow me on Twitter, click here.
Our Special Session Begins
Our Special Session gaveled in on Wednesday and will last until February 27. Normally, we would not need a Special Session to handle bills after Crossover. Crossover is that "halftime" moment when each chamber stops considering their own bills and starts considering the other body's bills.
But, as you'll recall (and if you don't, the newsletter where I described it is here), Republicans--for the first time in the half century since we've had the current Virginia Constitution--refused to let us work the customary 46 days and insisted on the constitutional minimum of 30 days instead. Clearly, they were doing everything they could do to keep us from passing necessary progressive legislation to help Virginia! (Or perhaps they just wanted to work less.)
In either case, we simply ignored their petty procedural maneuver and Governor Ralph Northam called us back into Special Session to finish our work. It sure helps to have a Democratic Governor!
So on Monday, we moved all our bills to special session. On Tuesday, those of us on the Courts of Justice Committee (like me) heard prospective judicial appointees. And then Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were, as typical, very busy.
As I described in last week's Post-Crossover Session Update newsletter, six of my seven bills and my marriage-equality constitutional amendment passed the House and are now before the Senate. I presented two of these bills this week, and I'm happy to report both passed out of committee. Four to go.
I have two (possibly three) more bills up on Monday, and then, one bill on Tuesday. Hard to believe, but this short session has only two short weeks to go.
The House of Delegates also passed its budget.
Two of My Bills Pass Committee
Floor Votes Next Week
1. The broad bipartisan support for my Virtual Meetings Bill (HB1931) continued in the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee on Thursday, passing 12-2. The bill increases local elected officials' ability to meet virtually.
My thank you to Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol, Alexandria Vice-Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, and all the many other local officials and organizations that spoke in favor of my legislation.
Watch me present HB1931 in Senate General Laws and Technology by clicking here.
2. HB1932, my "Don't Make Virginia Fund Adoption Discrimination" Bill, passed in an amended form out of the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee on Friday.
My version that passed the House would completely repeal the 2012 law that forces Virginia taxpayers to license and fund adoption agencies that practice religious discrimination. This law, patroned by the current Republican House Leader Todd Gilbert, was primarily designed to keep gay parents from parenting, even though it meant children would languish without parents in foster homes. Given that gay parents offer to take care of children with special needs at a rate of seven times that of straight parents, the children who are mostly harmed by this nasty measure are those who were disabled or have a history of delinquincency.
Gilbert's law also prevents an adoption agency from being sued for damages, if, for example, a gay or trans teen requires medical care after attempting to take their own life. Studies show that gay and trans teens are far more likely to attempt suicide. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine being kicked out of your home by homophobic or transphobic parents who didn't love you enough to accept you for who you are. Then imagine being told yet again by some state-financed adoption agency that "nobody wants you" or that you can only be placed in an anti-gay or anti-trans family rather than a loving, caring affirming one.
Gilbert's law made clear that even if such an adoption agency badly scarred these children or drove them to attempt suicide, the agencies would be exempt from any legal consequences in doing so. My bill HB1932 sought to repeal this appalling law, and it passed the House of Delegates.
The Senate Committee amended the bill to water it down. And it passed on a party-line split by a single vote.
As amended, by July 2022, Virginia taxpayers are no longer required to fund discrimination in foster care. As I said in my tweet, that's a big step forward. But Virginia still must license -- and protect from damages -- organizations that refuse to serve all Virginians or do what's best for children.
Half a loaf is better than none. It's an important step, and the bill moves on to the full Senate. This is both a "success" and a "not-yet success." But I do look forward to the day when Virginia treats all its citizens with equality under the law.
We banned racial discrimination in private businesses in Title VII of the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act. Just last year, my 36-page/60+ statute-modifying Comprehensive Rainbow Rights Law, the most far reaching LGBTQ+ legislation in the history of Virginia, passed on a bipartisan vote.
But sadly, it was not quite comprehensive enough. I find it depressing that more than half a century after Title VII, we still sanction religious discrimination in the Virginia Code, with a section of law used to discriminate against both gay people in Virginia and against Jewish people in South Carolina. But I don't give up. I'll be back.
Watch me present HB1932 in Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services by clicking here.
Four Bills to Go!
At Least Two in Committee on Monday Morning
One on Tuesday Afternoon
Please Sign Up to Speak for Them in Senate Committee!
The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to hear at least two of my bills (and possibly three) on Monday morning at 8am. If you support them, I hope you'll sign up to speak in favor of them.
1. HB1948, my Good Apples Bill. Two Republicans joined all Democrats in voting for the bill when it passed the House, as described more fully in earlier newsletters. This measure passed the House but not the Senate in 2020 during the 2020 Special Session; so it could use your support. Help save lives! Help Good Apples in law enforcement police bad ones! And help us outlaw gay and trans bias profiling!
2. HB2081, my Safe Elections Bill, would ban guns in polling places and vote counting centers. It passed the House with solely Democratic votes. It could also use your voice. Guns have no place at the ballot box.
3. MAYBE: HB2295, my Safe Capitol Bill, banning guns in the State Capitol, on Capitol grounds, and in state government buildings, was re-referred to the Judiciary Committee from Rules Committee on Friday. It might conceivably be heard on Monday, too. If not, it will probably be heard on Wednesday.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee is set to hear HB2082, my Redistricting Transparency Bill. More transparency + more public input = fairer maps. (More on redistricting below.)
The Virginia House and Senate have both passed proposed amendments to the two-year state budget. We will have to work out our differences before we can send it on to Governor Northam. The Commonwealth Institute of Fiscal Analysis offers an excellent comparative look at Governor Northam's budget proposal, the House's budget proposal, and the Senate's budget proposal.
Unfortunately, my budget amendment to zero out funding appropriated to the United Daughters of the Confederacy for Confederate grave and memorial maintenance did not pass for this year. However, I am pleased that, in part because of my advocacy in the past, funding will be removed for next year.
The House budget fulfills the promises we made at the outset of this session by:
Protecting Virginia Families
- Improving education by allocating $231.4 million for 5% teacher pay raises
- $429.5 million for no-loss payments to public schools, in addition to $1.3 billion in Federal relief and $51.1 million to address COVID-19 learning loss
- Funding to reach a 1:325 school counselor-to-student ratio
- A 3.5% pay raise for state employees
- $84 million to maintain affordable access to Virginia colleges and universities and $8.5 million to increase Tuition Assistance Grant awards and include online students
Keeping Virginia Healthy
- Paid sick leave for essential workers
- A $12 per patient/per day increase in nursing home payments
- Prenatal care through Medicaid/FAMIS regardless of the pregnant person’s citizenship status
- $300,000 for an actuarial study on creating a paid family and medical leave program. (As you may recall, I have been repeatedly putting this legislation forward since 2016, when I was apparently the first in Virginia to attempt it. I'm optimistic this study may be the key to open the door to this sorely-needed protection.)
- Funding for worker’s compensation for health care workers and first responders who die from, or are totally or partially disabled by, COVID-19 as an occupational disease suffered in the line of duty
- $107.3 million in state and federal funds for mass vaccination efforts, and 58.6 million for the purchase, storage, and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE)
Rebuilding a stronger, cleaner economy
- An additional $20 million in funding directed to Rebuild VA grants, bringing the program total to $140 million
- Funding for a pilot program allowing public broadband authorities to compete for 10% of Virginia Telecommunications Initiative grants. Improving broadband connectivity in rural Virginia and demanding more cable competition in urban Virginia have long been concerns of mine.
- A one-time $5 million capitalization to fund electric vehicle rebates
- Additional funding for agricultural best management practices to meet Chesapeake Bay clean-up benchmarks
The Vaccine Summary Dashboard continues to show Virginia’s significant progress in vaccinations, with more than 1.2 million doses administered. As of February 11, Virginia ranks 7th among all states for percent of the population that has received at least one dose, and 9th among all states for percent of available doses administered. More than 9 in 10 available first doses have been administered.
As the Washington Post has reported:
The Commonwealth is launching a Statewide Vaccine Pre-Registration System to provide a unified and comprehensive process for people in Virginia to pre-register for the COVID-19 vaccine.
As a result, the Virginia Department of Health has directed all local health districts to close their pre-registration forms and surveys at 5 p.m. on Friday, February 12, and replace them at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, February 16 with a link to the new statewide system.
In the interim, existing waiting lists will be imported to the new system and pre-registration will be temporarily unavailable throughout Virginia. All individuals who have previously filled out a survey or form or signed up for a waitlist to be vaccinated through their local health district will be automatically imported into the new statewide system and do not need to pre-register again. They will maintain their current status in the queue, and will be able to search that they are in the new system starting Tuesday morning.
New tools will also launch next week, including the new pre-registration website and an exponentially expanded call center. This will help ensure that callers can get timely assistance with questions and pre-registration.
Based on our population, Virginia receives approximately 129,000 doses per week from the federal government. While this is up 23% from the 105,000 per week we received for the first six weeks, the increase for each of Virginia’s 35 health districts is still relatively small. All states rely on the federal government to distribute vaccine doses by population. The pace of incoming doses is not expected to increase again until March, when it will increase due to the Biden Administration's new acquisitions. President Biden anticipates to have sufficient vaccine for all Americans by July.
The doses Virginia received from the federal government are allocated by the Virginia Department of Health to local health districts, primarily in proportion to each district’s population. Local health districts are expected to determine the most equitable and efficient use of each allocation, leveraging any combination of their own staff and volunteers, hospitals, pharmacies, and individual providers. Emergency legislation we passed will also help in this regard. Additional doses help support targeted equity initiatives. Other doses may reach some residents of Virginia through separate federal allocations for employees of the U.S. Department of Defense and certain other agencies; the Indian Health Service; and/or a federal contract with CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate residents of long-term care facilities.
All local health districts in Virginia are in Phase 1b of vaccine eligibility. This means that 4 million Virginians (approximately half of Virginia’s population!) are now eligible, including frontline essential workers, people aged 65 years and older, people with high-risk medical conditions identified by the CDC, and people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and migrant labor camps. Other than the healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities in Phase 1a, the Virginians in Phase 1b are at the highest risk of exposure to COVID-19 or serious illness if infected.
While local health districts are allowed flexibility in how doses are administered to eligible individuals, roughly half of the available supply should be used for people aged 65 or older. The other half should be used for frontline essential workers, people with high-risk medical conditions as identified by the CDC; and others in congregate settings. Frontline essential workers should be prioritized in the order listed in the Phase 1b details.
Unfortunately, as I've discussed in previous newsletters, there is still at this time simply not enough vaccine yet available for everyone who is eligible. Virginia is not likely to meet the demand for Phase 1b until March or April.
It may be weeks or longer before vaccination appointments become available for those who have pre-registered.
Anyone who receives the first dose of vaccine will receive the second dose three or four weeks later as appropriate. Vaccine providers should not hold back their current first dose supply for second doses; they will receive second doses in proportion to the first doses they administer.
Additionally, as part of a federal retail pharmacy program, 36 CVS Pharmacy locations in Virginia are now receiving a total of 26,000 first doses beyond Virginia’s normal allocation. Initially, the Commonwealth’s goal was for CVS to offer these appointments directly to people age 65 and older who were already on local health district waiting lists, rather than opening a new signup system for the public. Unfortunately, CVS was unable to find a way to do this within the technical limits of their appointment system. So, to be enrolled in the CVS program, you must also sign up with them.
Although CVS is limiting appointments to people age 65 or older, there is no requirement that individuals have previously pre-registered with local health districts. Anyone 65 or older can check CVS.com regularly to see if additional appointments become available. The number of weekly doses and retail locations as part of this program are expected to increase in the coming weeks, and the Commonwealth will continue to help CVS select locations based on equity indicators.
Census Delay + Amendment 1 =
Violation of Virginia's Constitution
NPR reports that Census data needed for redistricting may not arrive until September 30. The 6-month delay stems from delays brought by the COVID-19 pandemic and interference and incompetence by the Trump administration.
The Virginia Constitution requires that redistricting occur in 2021 and that we run in these new districts in November 2021. The census delay, plus the complications of Amendment 1 added to our Constitution last November, means a few months after changing our state constitution, we are set to violate it.
As you may recall, I warned loudly and repeatedly that Amendment 1's timeframe for redistricting was unrealistic and impractical. Sadly, I was right.
What will happen next? Will we run in our old delegate seats in violation of the Virginia Constitution? Will I have to run simultaneously for Lieutenant Governor and Delegate in a June primary? Will Delegates have to run again in 2022? Who knows? When you have to go outside the Constitution -- which we all took an oath to uphold -- anything is possible.
One thing we do know: redistricting has failed to do what the proponents of Amendment 1 said it would do in the timeframe required to do it. That's what happens when you put something together in a slapdash way at the last minute without thinking through its many implications. A more thoughtful redistricting constitutional provision, like one I'd like to see in the future, would take account of potential census delays.
I do have a bill on Tuesday morning (HB2082) which will add significant transparency protections to the redistricting process. Now that Amendment 1 is in our Constitution, I'm doing my best to improve a system I did not support. And I hope both supporters and opponents of Amendment 1 will join me in supporting the necessary transparency to improve the system.
But other provisions of Amendment 1 -- incumbent gerrymandering, for example -- I can do little about. They will be enshrined in our constitution for some time.
From late April until Election Day, June 8, 2021, Virginia voters will go to the polls to vote in Democratic and Republican primaries for three statewide officers: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General.
I'm running for Lieutenant Governor to increase the opportunity to implement the progressive values I've long fought for. There's just more potential to get priorities accomplished in a statewide office. Like the Governor and Attorney General, I intend to have a legislative agenda each and every year--much like I do as a delegate--only with the added imprimatur of a statewide office. Former Lieutenant Governor (now Congressman) Don Beyer used to do this, and it's about time we bring that tradition back. Working with the Governor, I will help develop policy statewide and oversee any particular issues of joint concern.
Virginia needs a full-time Lieutenant Governor. Constitutionally, the Lieutenant Governor does very little: you preside over the Senate for two months and then become Governor if the Governor's office is vacant (which has never happened in Virginia). In that vein, Virginia's Lieutenant Governor is similar to the United States Vice President. And as recently as 50 years ago, the Vice President like Virginia's Lieutenant Governor, was also a job of very limited scope.
Today is different. No one in their right mind thinks Vice President Kamala Harris is only going to preside over the US Senate and check on President Biden's health from time to time. Even in a 50-50 Senate, we fully anticipate Vice President Harris will also play a major role in consulting with President Biden, implementing progressive policies, and interacting with the American People. That is the role of a modern vice president and the role Joe Biden played when he was Vice President to President Obama.
It's time Virginia joins the 21st century. Virginia should have a full-time Lieutenant Governor in the mold of Vice President Harris. In fact, as the LG -- unlike the VP -- is separately elected from the person at the top of the ticket, the LG has even more power and authority in Virginia to pursue the LG's priorities than the VP has. As your Lieutenant Governor, I'm confident I can easily work with any of the Democratic Gubernatorial candidates. I have a good personal relationship with all of them. But my real boss, as always, will be you. It will be my responsibility to listen to Virginians all across the Commonwealth to make sure that the priorities we pursue in Richmond are translating into effective, practical policies that make people's lives better and that make Virginia a more just and fair Commonwealth for all.
To that end, I have committed, during my four years in office, to visiting every one of Virginia's 133 localities. Virginia has a lot of distinct local jurisdictions, more than 47 of the 50 states. Many hills and hollers in this vast, diverse Commonwealth rarely see a statewide elected official. My hope is to sit down with people, in local diners and meeting halls, to get to know them better. To get beyond the rhetoric of news silos, to circumvent conspiracy theories tearing our nation apart, to talk one to one, face to face. What are the most severe problems each Virginian faces? Is it health care? Lack of good-paying jobs? Insufficient educational opportunities? Uneven internet broadband? Is it injustice? Discrimination?
We have to know where we are failing on a micro level in order to implement policy well on a macro one. I think every Virginian deserves to have an ear in Richmond, someone as accessible and transparent as I've always been. I will certainly not agree with everyone. But people deserve answers. They need to know not just what we are doing but why we do what we do. They need someone direct, even blunt at times, someone who doesn't obfuscate with politi-speak.
I will be that Lieutenant Governor. And I hope, when my service ends, to transform the office: so we never have a part-time Lieutenant Governor again.
The people of Virginia deserve it.
If you share these values and want to help me in my campaign, you can best help by making a donation to it. Any level, large or small, is truly welcome. For more than five years now, I have given away my donations -- more than $100,000 -- to elect Democrats across the Commonwealth. But now, I need them for what will be an expensive statewide campaign.
You know me and what I stand for and how hard I work. But many Virginians don't know me. And your contribution allows me to introduce myself all across the Commonwealth.
If you have already donated and want to help out more, consider being a volunteer! My very friendly Field Director Delancey Lane would love to find a way for you to help that is comfortable for you and vital to the campaign.
Finally -- and this one takes just a minute or two -- please quickly sign up to put me on the ballot. You can do this even if you support another candidate. You can sign several of them. It just gives me ballot access. And, if you submit the last four digits of your social security number (which is not shared with the public!), you can submit the entire petition virtually. I will need more than 2000 signatures from all across the Commonwealth to get on the ballot.
If you are leaning toward another candidate, I hope you'll give me a chance to show you who I am and what I can do as Lieutenant Governor. Virginia has never once elected an openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer statewide elected official. Nor has there ever been an openly Rainbow lieutenant governor in the history of the USA in any of America's 50 states. To be the first such openly gay Lieutenant Governor would be quite an achievement, just one year after Pete Buttigieg became the first openly gay cabinet member. Representation is important, and as you may well know, I have spent three decades working for Rainbow equality under the law. (If you don't know my life history, check out my bio on my LG website or on wikipedia.)
But if you know me, you know I don't want to be elected as a mere symbol. You know I work very very hard. I fight to combat injustice, and I never quit. I have some successes and some not-yet successes, but there is too much unfairness in this world and in this Commonwealth to work only two months out of the year serving you. I intend to be a Lieutenant Governor like Virginia has never seen before.
Please vote for me. And we can expand Mark's Monthly Meetups to thousands of Virginians, each getting as much personal attention and help as my time and staff will allow.
I want to thank all of the many of you who have told me I'm the most accessible and transparent elected official they've ever met.
Now imagine providing that kind of service to all of Virginia...
I thank you again for the honor and privilege of serving you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District