I Heard You At Our Listening Session
Thank you to the more than 150 of you who came to speak and to listen.
The conversations were sorrowful but respectful. We all learned from one another.
I want to thank each and every one of you who joined us at Third Baptist Church last Sunday to voice your feelings and listen to your fellow community members do the same. For those of you who weren't there, we set out some ground rules to guide us that I thought worked exceedingly well:
1) Be respectful. I asked each speaker if you disagree with someone, to disagree with their point of view rather than calling someone out.
2) One at a time. Everyone could speak once. No one could speak twice.
3) No time limit, unless someone spoke much longer than others (and then I encouraged that person to wrap it up).
4) The press who attended were required not to record anyone who asked not to be recorded. We also took a vote as to whether or not the media could stay, and the overwhelming majority in the Church voted to allow them to stay.
5) People were urged to stay on the topics of racism, sexism, sexual assault, and what should be done with Virginia's leaders.
Thank you everyone for respecting these rules. The only off-topic comments made were were about abortion, and I asked folks concerned about that to come join my regular Mark's Monthly Meetup next Sunday (a week from today -- 2-4 pm at Los Tios in Del Ray), where I regularly discuss in an informal gathering any and all topics that folks wish to discuss.
For those who could not make it, ABC's Channel 7 compiled a less-than-two-minute clip that gives you a small indication of what the listening session was like:
Click on the image above to see ABC's Channel 7 take on the Listening Session.
(Click again on the picture at the top of the article to watch the video.)
The entire article is worth reading. Here's just a smattering of the comments made as compiled by Channel 7:
“He who is without sin, cast the first stone”
“There is a major problem: racism”
“I’m sorry, Governor. I’m sorry Lieutenant Governor, but my reservoir for tolerance for these types of shenanigans in the public eye is completely tapped out”
“I could be tarred and feathered for this, but I don’t want Ralph Northam to resign”
“I’ll tell you one thing. If anybody has to have a problem, it should be me. I’m a black man and I’m offended”
“I recognize in Ralph something in myself that is hard to admit, but a lot of white people are going to say and do racially insensitive things because we are racially illiterate”
“My family members are not racist. My friends, my classmates are not racist. We didn’t put on any blackface or dress up like members of the Ku Klux Klan. So, I resent being painted with the same brush as Governor Northam”
“I believe the women. I believe Dr. Tyson, I believe Miss Watson”
"I believe in innocent until proven guilty”
I discussed these topics on the radio with conservative talk radio host Larry O'Connor on WMAL in Washington and explained the reasoning behind my calls for resignation as well as the various legal scenarios that would occur if any of our Virginia political leaders decided to resign. You can click on the image below to listen to the full 14- minute radio interview:
Click on the radio image above to listen to my WMAL interview regarding Virginia's leaders.
Democrats to Force Floor Battle on the
Equal Rights Amendment
If we add up all the Members of the House of Delegates who claim to support the Equal Rights Amendment -- which includes every single Democrat and a handful of Republicans -- we would have more than enough votes to ratify the ERA.
But, as I noted last week with LGBT rights, many a Republican in the House of Delegates claims to support equal rights but rests secure in the knowledge that their Republican party leadership would never willingly allow a vote on the issue. That's why not a single gay-rights bill was allowed to be heard by a single House Committee this session. It was to allow those pretending-to-be-moderate Republican delegates to shrug their shoulders and mislead their constituents by claiming, "I would have voted for equal rights if only given the opportunity."
It's not true. It was never true.
That's why last week, I put the basic issue of whether Virginia should be allowed to fire all its employees solely for being LGBT to the test by forcing a House Floor vote on the issue: every single Republican failed the test. And by rejecting Rainbow equality on a strict party-line vote, Republican Delegates put a lie to the claims by some of them (and the misleading claims of even some gay-rights organizations) that there exist some Virginia Republican Delegates who actually do believe in fairness and equality under the law. No one can believe such nonsense anymore. Everyone who believes in equal rights for gay and lesbian and transgender Virginians now know how essential it is to vote against every single Republican in the House of Delegates. (For more on what happened on LGBT rights last week, check out last week's newsletter.)
To sum it all up, it doesn't matter what you say; what matters is how you vote.
More than 100 people gathered on the Capitol steps demanding a Floor vote on the ERA
We now arrive at exactly the same conclusion with the Equal Rights Amendment. A handful of Republican Delegates have said publicly that they support the ERA. And while we Democrats are extremely skeptical they are telling the truth, there are a handful of advocates who actually take the Republicans at their word.
Well, as with my LGBT Floor Amendment, we will give these Republicans who claim to support the ERA an opportunity to put their vote where their mouth is, a chance not to be hypocrites. This Wednesday, Democrats will force a Floor vote on the ERA.
I'm pretty confident that the Republicans who claim to support the ERA are not telling the truth to their voters, just as they misled their constituents on LGBT equal rights. But what the heck? Let's prove it once and for all.
The vote will be this Wednesday. Will there be two House Republicans willing to cross party lines and join every single House Democrat in supporting ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, making Virginia the 38th and final state necessary for the ERA to become part of the United States Constitution?
I won't hold my breath. But at least, if on Wednesday -- as I expect -- these ERA-professing Republicans don't end up actually voting for the ERA, we can once and for all prove their rhetoric about believing in equality for women is as empty and hypocritical as their false avowals that they believed gay, lesbian, and transgender folks should be equal under the law. Remember: it doesn't matter what you say; what matters is how you vote.
My House Bills in the Senate
My bill HB2425 is on its way to becoming law.
Schoolhouse Rock Bill would be proud.
Mandatory Reporting of Healthcare-Related Infections
HB2425 would require Virginia's healthcare providers to report to the Virginia Department of Health infections and other diseases contracted in their settings. The Hippocratic Oath of medical professionals says "Do no harm." So when people who are supposed to heal us are accidentally making us sicker, the Virginia Government should be able to track these problems and then take steps to prevent further unnecessary harm.
The bill went through subcommittee and committee and passed unanimously out of the House of Delegates. This week, it passed out of Senate committee and out of the Senate unanimously.
It's now on its way to the Governor to be signed into law!
Click on the image above to watch my presentation of HB2425 in the Senate subcommittee.
Protecting Animals and Preventing Domestic Violence
HB2642 would make it a felony to use cruelty toward animals to coerce, intimidate, or harass a household or family member, or to torture or maim a pet dog or cat. The bill went through House Courts of Justice subcommittee and committee and passed unanimously out of the House of Delegates. On Thursday I presented the bill to the Senate Agricultural, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee, which voted unanimously in favor of it but sent it on to the Senate Finance Committee which will hear the bill Monday.
If you want to lobby Senators in favor of the bill, please email me and we'll tell you who to contact. Two Senators who represent Alexandria -- Senator Dick Saslaw and Senator George Barker are on this committee. I'm confident that if HB2642 passes this committee, it will very likely pass the Senate and be on its way to the Governor as well.
Click on the image above to watch my presentation of HB2642 in a Senate Committee
In legislating, as important as it is to write and advocate for new laws, it is equally vital — if far less glamorous — to carefully examine legislation to find concealed flaws, bring those flaws to light, and if possible, work to improve them. I worked to improve two more bills this week.
The first was "tax conformity," that essential bill that conforms Virginia taxes to Federal taxes and allows us all to timely file our tax returns. Most laws we pass this session go into effect on July 1, 2019. That date is the earliest a law can go into effect, unless it has an emergency designation and is passed with at least 80% of the votes. Then and only then does a bill become law the moment the Governor signs it.
It was critical the tax conformity bill become law in February, so that we can all timely finish our Virginia taxes without having to file for an extension. But that required 80 votes. When the 16 members of the Black Legislative Caucus (all Democrats) announced they would oppose the deal, I saw an opportunity to use our leverage (which we rarely have in the minority) to improve upon the already pretty good deal we had worked out with Republicans that I described last week. I was one of eight Democrats who joined with the Black Caucus to vote no on the first deal.
In exchange for my vote, I pushed for four items the Republicans had removed from the budget that I believed were very important to the 45th District: (1) more aid for education for at-risk families (because Alexandria has a majority of kids in its public schools who rely on free or reduced lunch), (2) money in the budget to promote the census (which is vital to an accurate count and democratic representation), (3) more money for affordable housing, and (4) more money for teacher salaries.
I concede the strategy was a risk. I knew that Republicans could just give up on tax conformity altogether and blame us. But I also knew how important tax conformity was to all of us, and I felt they would sweeten the deal just a bit more to get it passed. In the end, they did promise to improve the budget on all four of the requested measures. So I switched my vote from no to yes.
Now, if the Republicans who made these promises keep their part of the bargain, Virginians will not only be able to timely file our tax returns: we will also have increased support for teachers, affordable housing, the census, and at-risk kids.
The sun rises over the Virginia Capitol.
The other bill I challenged this week — one that would have a direct impact on far fewer Virginians but an indirect effect on us all — also related to taxation. Republicans brought a bill that would exempt all profits from land sold via eminent domain from Virginia capital-gains taxes. Few of us like eminent domain, but the U.S. Constitution requires that just compensation be paid in exchange for any land required to be sold to the Government. When you sell your land voluntarily, you have to pay federal and state capital gains taxes. Why should you get a state tax exemption when the buyer of your land is the Government?
Even if you think that makes sense when landowners did not wish to sell, the bill as drafted placed no limit on such a tax exemption. That meant even if a large landholder, like a developer, received $20 million (or more!) in profits when its land was purchased via eminent domain, the developer wouldn't have to pay Virginia taxes on any of that $20 million profit. (They would still have to pay the federal capital gains tax, of course, but other Virginia taxpayers would have to cover the balance of Virginia taxes no longer paid by the multi-millionaire land developer.)
I proposed an amendment as a compromise: if the Government buys a small or even medium piece of land — anything valued at less than $5 million — the exemption would apply and there would be no taxes. This would protect the vast majority of family farms. But if a large landholder sold land and made a taxable gain of more than $5 million, the landowner would have to pay the taxes on its profit in excess of $5 million (i.e. anyone making a $6 million profit would pay taxes as if their profit were only $1 million). Unfortunately, the amendment was defeated. And so Virginia taxpayers will all have to pay a bit more in taxes to fund this special tax break for multi-millionaires.
Not all the battles I fight succeed. But I learned long ago that the only surefire way to fail to achieve a goal is not to attempt at all.
I believe if a land developer makes more than $5 million in profit from eminent domain land sales,
the developer should pay Virginia taxes like everyone else.
The Federal Government taxes this income. Why shouldn't we?
Why should middle-class Virginians pay for this multi-millionaire tax break?
Click on the image above to watch me make this case on the House Floor.
Just One More Week of Session!
In every odd-numbered year in Virginia, session is a mere seven weeks long. In just seven weeks, the House and Senate jointly reviews 2000 bills, of which about 700 usually become law. (In even-numbered years, Virginia has a longer nine-week session. Even this legislative session is one of the shortest in the United States.) We do a lot of work in such a short period of time. As I strive to read and understand every single bill I vote on, I keep very, very busy, often working from 7 am in the morning until after midnight.
Candid shot of me reading a constituent email after 10 pm to prepare for votes the next day
In session, a day seems like a week. A week seems like a month. And a month seems like a year. But then suddenly, it's all over. We approach the end of session now. Just one more six-day week (Monday-Saturday) to go, and we will adjourn on Saturday, February 23. Then, we have only the reconvene session on Wednesday, April 3 to go, one long day where we review all of the bills the Governor has vetoed or amended.
The first thing I do when session is over is report to you. I will pack up and return to Alexandria next Saturday night. I will send my last session newsletter next Sunday morning. And I will report to you in person next Sunday afternoon atMark's Monthly Meetup. Please join us at Los Tios in Del Ray (2615 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria) from 2 to 4 pm, and I'll do my best to answer all your questions about what happened in the 2019 Legislative Session. Sure I'll be dead-tired, but I'll be in a good mood and very happy to be home.
The January Mark's Monthly Meetup
Members of the Virginia House of Delegates have only a two-year term. We are re-elected every odd-numbered year.
In November 2019, every one of the 140 Members of the General Assembly will be up for election. Your Virginia Senators, who have four-year terms, will be up for election this year as well. And given the tight margins (51-48 in the House and 21-19 in the Senate), it's anyone's guess as to which party will win control in November. Obviously if the Democrats take over, we can finally pass progressive legislation that has been dormant for decades.
I will be running for re-election this November. If I have a Democratic primary opponent, that election will be held on June 11.
Your statewide elected officials (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General) will not be on the ballot this year, unless there is a vacancy. Laws for filling vacancies for statewide officials are complex. (I haven't seen a single media source get them exactly right!). But I've studied the law and lay out the various scenarios below.
Laws on Vacancy for Statewide Officials
If the Governor's office is vacant:
The Lieutenant Governor (LG) becomes Governor and, unlike other Virginia Governors, can run for re-election.
If Governor and LG offices are vacant, the Attorney General (AG) becomes Governor.
If Governor, LG, and AG are vacant, the Speaker of the House becomes Governor.
If Governor, LG, AG, and Speaker are vacant, the House of Delegates chooses the Governor.
If the LG's office is vacant (either because the LG has resigned or because the LG has become Governor):
The Governor (whether existing or a former LG that has become Governor) appoints a new LG. That new LG lasts until January 2020.
There would be an election in November 2019 to fill the remaining two years of the LG's term. In such an election, the LG appointed by the Governor could be re-elected or a new one could be elected to take his/her place.
Until an LG appointment is made by the Governor to fill a vacant slot, a member of the majority party in the senate (the "President Pro Tempore") would preside over the Senate. Until the vacancy was filled, no one would be able to break ties in the Senate, as the current LG does.
If the AG's office is vacant (either because the AG has resigned or because the AG has become Governor:
And the Virginia General Assembly is in session (as it is from now for one more week until February 23, or possibly longer, if we are called into special session, as we were last year when we couldn't agree on Medicaid Expansion), the Virginia General Assembly appoints a new AG.
If the General Assembly is not in session (and it is expected to adjourn Saturday, February 23), the Governor (whether existing or a former LG or AG that has become Governor) appoints a new AG.
That new AG lasts until January 2020, when the new General Assembly (both House and Senate) would jointly elect a new AG. If there were a Democratic majority elected in November 2019, we would choose a Democratic AG. If there were a Republican majority elected in November 2019, they would choose a Republican AG.
Sources: Virginia Constitution: Article V, Sections 16 and 7 (clause 4);
Virginia Code §§ 24.2-212 and 24.2-213
Wednesday, February 20
House of Delegates ERA Vote
The Capitol, Richmond
Saturday, February 23
4 pm - 7 pm
Kickoff for Greg Parks for Alexandria Clerk of Court
1005 Russell Road, Alexandria
Sunday, February 24
2 pm - 4 pm
Mark's Monthly Meetup
Los Tios Restaurant
2615 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria
Happy Valentine's Day!
Happy Valentine's Day from the Pocahontas Building in Richmond!
Folks there take Valentine's Day very seriously.
Pictured, along with my Legislative Counsel Snapper Tams,
is my Administrative Assistant Rebecca Tully.
No matter how busy it gets, I always set aside time to chat with constituents who stop by my office, whether you're advocating on behalf of a particular cause or just saying hello. This up-coming week is your last chance to stop by in 2019!
Please stop by and place your residence on our map of the 45th District!
Anyone who reads all of this very long newsletter deserves special commendation.
The view of the Capitol from my office in Richmond
Come visit me to see it!
It is always my honor and privilege to serve you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District