Representing Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax

Newsletter - February 16, 2020

Read other newsletters

Chair, Public Safety
Subcommittee

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

A QUICK LINK TO
ALL OF MARK'S BILLS

MARK IN THE NEWS

Generally Fulfilling Progressive Priorities...

Virginia emerges as South's progressive leader under Dems
Washington Post (AP)

At the Halfway Point, What Has the New Democratic Majority Focused on in Richmond?
Virginia Public Radio - audio of me

Virginia Democrats Advance Ambitious Legislative Agenda Before Deadline
WAMU Radio 88.5

Fighting Elder Abuse...

Levine's guardianship bill faces unexpected last-minute objection from bar association lawyer
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Levine's guardianship visitation bill killed by Virginia Bar Association opposition
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Fighting Predatory Lending...

Va. lawmakers advance bills to fight predatory lending
ABC 3 News (WHSV)

Local Option for Minimum Wage...

House of Delegates opts against minimum-wage free-for-all
Inside NOVA

Regulating Assault Weapons

Ban on sales of assault weapons advances in Virginia, stirring anger
Washington Post

House backs assault weapons ban. Delegates passed all of Northam's gun control bills, but some faltered in Senate.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Virginia lawmakers debate assault weapon ban
The New York Times

'You have a gun, you get to keep your gun'; Assault weapons bill sparks debate
ABC 13 News (WSET)

Bill regulating sale of assault weapons passes Virginia house
CBS 6 News (WTVR)

Controversial Virginia 'assault weapons ban' edges closer to law after white supremacists said it would spark 'civil war'
The Independent (British)

Bill banning sale of assault weapons has Virginia gun shop owners on edge
13 News Now (Suffolk)

VA Assault Weapons Ban Squeaks Out Of House With Changes
The Patch (NOVA)

National Popular Vote

Virginia House passes bill to give electoral votes to popular vote winner
CNN

Bill giving electoral votes to popular vote winner passes
Washington Post

VA House passes bill to award electoral votes to national popular vote winner for POTUS
ABC 8 News - with video of me

Virginia House Votes to Join Movement to Elect President on Popular Vote
NPR/Virginia Public Media

Va. House passes bill that would award electoral votes to popular vote winner
ABC 3 News (WHSV)

Bill to give electoral votes to candidate who wins popular vote passes Va. House
ABC 13 News (WSET)

Repealing the Crime of Fornication

A new bill could finally make it legal for unmarried people to have sex in Virginia
CNN

Is Virginia really for lovers? Lawmakers look to repeal law that makes fornication a crime
WTVR - CBS 6

Virginia Democrats want to make it legal for unmarried people to have sex
Fox 5 News

Let the Virginians F--k
Jezebel

LATE-NIGHT COMEDY NATIONWIDE

The fornication bill was mentioned (and current Virginia Law was mocked) both on Seth Myers' show and Late Night with Stephen Colbert.

CONTACT MARK

On the website,
 via email,
 on Facebook,
 or on Twitter.

Or by mail and phone:

Richmond Office:
Pocahontas Building
900 East Main Street, Suite E208
Richmond, VA 23219
804.698.1045

DelMLevine@house.virginia.gov

This newsletter, like most of mine during the legislative session, will take some time to read. But it is a labor of love, and I do hope you'll take some time to look at the topics that interest you and particularly check out the myriad news articles about my work in the left-hand column. Believe it or not, the 27 articles chosen there are just a representative sample of the more than 100 articles nationwide that featured my work for you this week, not to mention the hundreds of articles that featured the work of the new Democratic majority in the Virginia Legislature. (My work was even featured briefly on at least a couple of the national late-night comedy shows.)

Three days ago, in a special mid-week Crossover newsletter, I shared with you all the wonderful successes we have had with my bills so far this session. This newsletter, as promised, I will share with you my greatest disappointments. But, just like this session as a whole, the good news far outweighs the bad, so before I get to the disappointments, I will start with more good news.

In my last newsletter, I told you about 25 of my bills that had passed the House and were on their way to the Senate. Well, I already have one that's succeeded at the next step, through Senate Committee:

HB861, which will ensure that courts take into consideration a parent's history of domestic violence and child abuse when making child custody determinations, passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It has yet to receive a single no vote in either chamber.

SIX BILLS COMING UP MONDAY AND TUESDAY:

Coming up Monday in Senate Committee is my assault weapons ban (HB961), my bill to repeal fornication (HB245), and my bill to regulate Virginia's police-worn body cameras (HB246).

Then on Tuesday, Senate Committees will hear my National Popular Vote Compact (HB177), my bill to require voter-verified paper ballots (HB1053), and my bill to close a loophole that allowed the GOP to rig the 2017 Shelly Simonds recount (HB190).

Also next week is Virginia's State Budget.

So stay tuned! We have three weeks left and miles to go before I finally return home for a week of rest and recuperation!

The House of Delegates has been historically productive this year. 

As the Associated Press reported I said in dozens of newspapers nationwide: 

“It’s nice to finally be able to do what I think the majority of Virginians have wanted for a long time,”
-- Delegate Mark Levine

But don't just take my word for it. Read The Virginia Mercury:

In five weeks, Virginia Democrats reshape decades of state policy

Or the Washington Post or local TV or radio (or different radio).

 

I've already shared with you a lot of the great bills the House had passed before this week, bills that will stem the scourge of gun violence, protect the Rainbow (LGBT+) community from discrimination, and strengthen voting rights.

This week, over the course of the last two days before Crossover, we passed even more legislation that will transform the lives of all Virginians. Needless to say, I voted for every one of these bills I describe below (some of which were mine and many of which I copatroned!)

Building a Pro-Worker Economy

  • We raised the minimum wage. We passed a bill on a party-line vote to hike Virginia's minimum wage from its current federal minimum rate of $7.25 an hour to:

$10 per hour in four months
(on July 1, 2020)

& $15 an hour in three years
(on July 1, 2023) 

The rate would rise to $11 per hour on July 1, 2021, to $13 per hour on July 1, 2022, and finally to $15 per hour on July 1, 2023. The bill also removes a number of exemptions from the minimum wage requirement, including small businesses with fewer than four employees.

  • We created the Virginia Health Benefits Exchange to transition Virginia from the federal health insurance exchange to our own online marketplace, as a way to save money and improve access to affordable insurance.
  • We will require contractors and subcontractors under any public contract for public works with a state agency to pay wages, salaries, benefits, and other remuneration at the prevailing wage.

Protecting the Environment; Fighting Climate Change

  • The Virginia Clean Economy Act will create a state renewable energy portfolio system (RPS) program, which will require that 30 percent or more of Virginia’s electricity come from clean energy by 2030 and that 73 percent must come from clean sources by 2035. By the year 2050, the Act requires that 100 percent of Virginia electricity will be clean.

  • Advancing offshore wind development.

  • Joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cooperative effort among numerous states to cap and reduce power sector CO2 emissions.

  • Allowing localities to impose a five-cent per bag tax on plastic bags provided to customers by retailers in grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants, or drugstores (certain products are exempt from this tax)
  • The Fair Energy Bill Act to protect consumers and ratepayers from overcharges

Building a More Inclusive Virginia

  • Removing the citizenship requirement for having a driver's license or special ID card
  • In-state tuition for qualified Virginians regardless of citizenship status
  • Creating the Office of New Americans within the Department of Social Services

 

Voting Rights

  • Extending polling hours one hour from 6 am - 7 pm to 6 am - 8 pm
    For working Virginians who deal with traffic and transit issues throughout the Commonwealth, this legislation will give them a crucial extra hour to have their voices heard.

We are not done yet.

The Senate still has three weeks to consider these bills. Some of these bills may not survive the Senate. Others will be different a month from now. And if there are differences between the House versions and Senate versions of the bills, those differences will need to be reconciled before a bill is sent to the Governor for his signature. If you have a preference for a House or Senate version of legislation, please let me know.

Next week, the House will vote on a budget. And we will be using the budget to advance many progressive priorities, from raising teacher salaries to investing in transportation and clean energy infrastructure. I will, of course, share details about the budget in next week's newsletter.


Six Disappointments

It's not all peaches and cream. If I didn't fail to succeed in some bills I cared about, that would probably mean I didn't try hard enough. As I learned in grade school, sometimes a perfect score meant the test was too easy. I try, in every bill I put forward, to get the very best and strongest bill I can. And sometimes that means I don't succeed the first time out.

This is simply part of politics, part of the legislative process. You propose ideas. Sometimes, people like them; sometimes, people don't. I knew I wasn't going to pass every one of the 47 bills I introduced this year. All you can do is try your best and hope you convince your colleagues. But if I still feel it's a good idea, I will bring the issue back again and again until I do succeed. Many of the bills I've had success with so far this year I've introduced in the past and tried again. Sometimes a failure is simply a "not-success-yet."

1. No Local Option to Raise the Minimum Wage

HB325 is a measure I've introduced repeatedly since 2016 to give localities the option to raise the minimum wage over the federal and state minimum. Why should workers in Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax receive the same minimum wage as those in small towns and other areas of Virginia where the cost of living is far less? Those who work in our communities should be able to live in our communities. And I am confident the localities I represent would raise the minimum wage if they could.

Unfortunately, the subcommittee didn't see it that way. They didn't explain their reasoning, but perhaps, with Democrats raising the state minimum wage so much this year (37% in four months, see above), they thought it was too much too soon. 

Perhaps, I could have been better prepared. But when you have introduced as many bills as I did this year (the second highest in the House of Delegates), you tend to focus on the bills that seem more difficult to pass. I had thought this would be an easy one. I was wrong. Many of my allies on this issue must have thought so as well, because very few were in the room that late at night after a long day. Advocacy matters, and sometimes who is in the room does make a difference as to whether a bill passes or not. Rest assured, I will make this proposal again in the future and make sure the room is full of advocates for a higher local minimum wage option.

 
Click the image to watch me argue for giving localities the option of raising the minimum wage.

- - - - -

2. No Additional Penalties for Drivers Seriously Injuring Pedestrians

HB247 would have increased penalties for drivers who seriously injure pedestrians while disobeying traffic laws. It was brought to me by Alexandria Families for Safe Streets. A number of Alexandria's pedestrians have been terribly injured by careless drivers. But despite causing serious bodily injuries, these drivers can only be punished under criminal law with a fine.

Delegate Lee Carter moved to report the bill, but he failed to get a "second."  Obviously, my colleagues disagreed that this issue was serious enough to warrant jail.


You can watch the subcommittee hearing on the bill by clicking the image.

- - - - -

3. No Court Efficiency for Victims of Domestic Violence

HB919, would have simplified the process by which victims of domestic violence obtain protective orders, by giving judges discretion to hear their civil case on the same day the criminal case against their alleged abusers is heard. The bill failed to make it out the Criminal Subcommittee of Courts of Justice. You can watch my presentation by clicking the image below. 

Frankly, I still don't understand why this bill didn't pass. In fact, one delegate on the subcommittee thought it was already the law! Oh well. The night was late, they had heard lots of bills, and we can't get them all right. Perhaps lawyers that represent alleged abusers want the process to be exceedingly difficult for people seeking protective orders.

But I still don't believe that a victim of domestic violence should have to miss work and come to court three times just to get relief from abuse, particularly when everyone in the courtroom (except the victim) knows the second hearing will be a sham and just be continued to the date of the criminal case. I know of no good reason why Virginia can't fix this problem.


Click on the image above to watch the subcommittee presentation.

- - - - -

4. No Notice for Evicted Tenants of State Resources to Help Them

HB329 was a bill to require information on all eviction notices about the state service 2-1-1, a number that unfortunate people who are being evicted can call to get critical help for their situation (including information and rent assistance). The bill failed to report out of a General Laws subcommittee. To be honest, I thought this bill would pass easily and unanimously. Boy, I was wrong. 

I still think those being evicted could use this service, but my colleagues disagreed.

5. Virginia Will Continue to be Required by Law to Use Taxpayer Dollars to Promote Religious Discrimination

Back in January, I told you about HB1051, a bill: (1) to prohibit Virginia from funding adoption agencies that discriminate against people on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or status as a veteran; and (2) to repeal a law proposed by the current Republican Leader Delegate Todd Gilbert in 2012passed over fierce Democratic opposition including several amendments by my predecessor Delegate David Englin, which requires taxpayer-funded bigotry.

Even if Virginia does not want to discriminate against same-sex couples or Jews or Buddhists or any other religion, Virginia is currently required by law to fund such discrimination with taxpayer money.

Current law does not allow us to do what's best for children! Virginia is required to leave children languishing in temporary homes rather than allow them to be adopted by loving couples in permanent homes, so long as a private religious organization is too prejudiced to put children's needs over the organization's own religious bigotry. My legislation would have both repealed the "required bigotry clause" and replaced it with a non-discrimination clause. 


You can watch my first presentation of HB1051 by clicking here.

Members of the subcommittee whom I know do not support discrimination had expressed concerns about the impact that the bill could have on kids currently in the foster care system. They passed the bill by for the week so I could gather evidence to show them that they did not need to worry about a single child being displaced if my bill were to go into effect. 

In my estimation, I delivered on my promise to them. I explained how, in numerous states where similar laws have been put in place, not a single child has ever been displaced. We're talking thousands of children here, folks. 

I even amended the bill to give Virginia's Department of Social Services — the state agency which runs our adoption and foster programs — an additional six months to ensure a smooth transition as the new law took effect. But it was to no avail. My bill to end state-funded discrimination in adoption services failed to pass the Health, Welfare and Institutions Subcommittee on Social Services.


You can watch my second attempt to get the bill out of subcommittee here. 

Still, I did not give up. I received the permission of the Chair of Health, Welfare, & Institutions to bring up the bill one more time to full committee right before Crossover. I was even willing to amend the bill to allow Virginia's taxpayer-funded discrimination to continue; but as amended, my bill would have removed the requirement that Virginia discriminate.

But even that was still insufficient for at least one of the bill's detractors, who apparently went behind my back to keep the bill from being heard. Honestly, I just don't think the person who did this understood my proposed amendment to the legislation. I assure you I worked as hard as I possibly could to make this happen. Sometimes people just are unwilling to listen. 

I promise you I will never give up on this. You can rest assured I will bring this bill back each and every year as long as I'm an elected official

There is no justification for requiring Virginia taxpayers from a wide variety of religious traditions to fund religions that expressly discriminate against us. If a religion wants to act with bigotry, it should not get state funding to do so.

I believe the 2012 Gilbert law is not just offensive. I believe it to be an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits state establishment of religion. It may require a very expensive lawsuit to remove this odious law from our books. I would prefer to just repeal it. But I will not rest until it is no longer harming Virginia's children or Virginia's families.

- - - - -

6. Virginia will Continue to Promote Guardian Abuse and Block Harmless Family Members from Seeing their Loved Ones with Alzheimer's or Other Mental Incapacitation.

HB862, my bill to reform our guardianship system so as to minimize the unnecessary forced isolation of people deemed incapable of making their own decisions, failed to make it out of the Civil subcommittee of Courts of Justice. 

This was especially heartbreaking for me, as I had worked relentlessly over the course of the past year to bring all stakeholders to the table to hash out a compromise we could all live with. And I thought we had that agreement. 

As you can see in the video below, this bill had the support of the elder law attorneys, the National Guardianship Association, AARP, the Alzheimer's Association, Adult Protective Services, and families who have been affected by our disastrous status quo. 

You can watch the first hearing of this bill by clicking the image below. 

I can't deny being disappointed that one person with a professional conflict who had never reached out to me and promised the committee she would negotiate with me then, minutes later, told me she was in "no position to negotiate." I don't believe such obvious bad faith at the eleventh hour should be able to scuttle a year's work. 

You can watch the second presentation here:

The last-minute deep-sixing of this bill turned out to be a big two-day front-page story for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Unfortunately, the detailed stories written by journalist Bridget Balch are behind a paywall (but I think you may be able to read a couple of them for free or join for a small fee).

Levine's guardianship bill faces unexpected
last-minute objection from bar association lawyer

Levine's guardianship visitation bill killed by
Virginia Bar Association opposition

If you want to read these articles and don't have access to the Richmond Times-Dispatchjust email me and I'll send these articles to you.

As I said to the Richmond Times Dispatch, our guardianship system in Virginia is broken. Most guardians are good people, but a few of them abuse the system and the end result is extremely dangerous to people with Alzheimer's and other mentally incapacitated people and their families.

That's why I was the chief copatron of HJ127, Delegate Danica Roem' s bill to study this broken system, which I presented along with her to the Rules Committee (Click here to watch video, where we received a promise from the Chair to send a letter to Virginia's Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) to study the issue.)

We should be able to sort out the difficult conflicts of interest that occur when a person loses their mental capacities and their due process at the same time. I believe guardians should owe a fiduciary duty to the mentally incapacitated people they supposedly serve, rather than to the hospitals that pay these lawyers to deny care to them in order to save on hospital bills. 

A detailed three-part series in the Richmond Times Dispatch (that is also unfortunately behind a paywall) showed in detail the dangers of leaving the mentally incapacitated in the care of those bent on profit rather than care. I've long believed that loving family and friends are often the only competent "eyes and ears" a mentally incapacitated person has.

If your parents have Alzheimer's, you shouldn't have to file a court action and present clear and convincing evidence that guardian restrictions are unreasonable just to pay your mom or dad a visit. Nor should you lose visitation rights if you complain to Adult Protective Services about the sores you see on your mom's body. You should be consulted when the guardian decides to let your dad die in contrast to his own stated wishes on his medical power of attorney.

I was very sorry to see the House of Delegates kick this can down the road for another year. Perhaps I care a little too much, but I cannot deny that those who abuse vulnerable people make me viscerally angry.


If you are one of the intrepid folks who actually read every word of this newsletter, please let me know what you think.


I do hate to end on a sour note. As noted above and in virtually every other newsletter I've sent this year, it's been an overwhelmingly positive and productive session. Twenty five of my bills have passed from House to Senate, either directly or by incorporation. This is no shabby accomplishment, and even if only half of this legislation passes the Senate as well and is signed by the Governor into law, it would still be an equivalent or even greater achievement than my four years of work under Republican rule put together. 

Furthermore, as a caucus, we House Democrats have done some amazing things. When the Republican Minority Leader Todd Gilbert bitterly complains that it will take decades to undo all we've done in just five short weeks, I know our contributions to Virginia have been deep and long lasting.

I know I will have disappointments post-crossover as well. Not every bill will succeed. Those who know me know I put hard work and passion in every cause I fight for. If the intensity I put in my work occasionally leads to great disappointments, I know that that same devotion also leads to incredibly rewarding successes.

I also push my dedicated staff quite hard. We are often working late into the night when all other delegates and staff have gone home. So next time you see my Chief of Staff Jacob Weinberg, my Legislative Counsel Snapper Tams, or my diligent legislative interns Danny Anderson or Sajya Abdul, please thank them heartily, commiserate with them for what I've put them through, and let them know the labor was all worthwhile.

We are changing Virginia dramatically for the better. 
And I owe it all to you for giving me the privilege to do it.

Thank you.


Pictures from Session


With fellow champion for paid family & medical leave, Delegate Jennifer Carroll-Foy.


At an Equality Virginia event with fellow pro-equality legislators.


With Vee Lamneck, Executive Director of Equality Virginia, and former Arlington County Board Member Jay Fisette, the first out gay elected official in Virginia history.


With Marty Rouse, National Field Director for the Human Rights Campaign,
and James Parrish, former Executive Director of Equality Virginia,
after the passage of my comprehensive LGBT-rights bills.


My Chief of Staff Jacob Weinberg met with immigrant rights activists from CASA while I was in committee. All Virginians should make their voices heard in Richmond.


If you're a constituent and you come to visit my office, 
I will ask you to mark where you live on my office map!


Standing with Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson for Local Government Legislative Day.


A great way to cap off a day: dinner with local leaders
and elected officials from Alexandria and Arlington.


GOP Delegate Matt Fariss and I are very different people with very different values,
but we do like one another. Bipartisan friendships exist throughout the Capitol.


Intrepid legislative journalist (and constituent) Michael Pope occasionally uses
my office to record his radio stories, using his jacket to keep out ambient sound.

So no. That's not a Warlock. It's a Pope!


Upcoming Event

NEXT WEEKEND!

Sunday, February 23
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Mark's Monthly Meetup

Los Tios
2615 Mt. Vernon Avenue, Del Ray


It is always my honor and privilege to serve you.

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