MARK IN THE NEWS:
Gun violence prevention measures pass Senate, headed to Northam’s desk
Augusta Free Press
Virginia Assembly Bans Guns at Polling Places
Legislation Moving Forward in Richmond Would Ban Guns at All Virginia Polling Places
Virginia Public Radio
Committee Rejects Bill to Make Redistricting Meetings More Transparent
Bill seeking transparency in redistricting commission killed
[The above article contains some inaccuracies. I have requested corrections from the reporter.]
On Police Accountability
Virginia lawmakers kill bill requiring law enforcement to report misconduct by fellow officers
The LG Campaign
Poll: Most Virginia voters undecided in state races
Wason Center Polls VA Gov, LG and AG Races: “McAuliffe, Herring have head starts among Democrats; Chase leads Cox, Snyder for Republican governor bid”
The Alexandria Connection
Del. Mark Levine Completely Debunks “Partisan Hack Job” Editorial by Roanoke Times, Falsely Blaming *Democrats* (WTF?), Not *Republicans*, For Underfunding Public Education!
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As you might expect from the penultimate week of the 2021 Session, last week featured both exciting successes and grave disappointments.
On the bright side, both chambers passed my constitutional amendment affirming marriage equality in Virginia. My Virtual Meetings bill and Safe Elections bill passed the Senate and are on their way to the Governor's desk. My Safe Capitol Bill will go to the Senate tomorrow and likely placed in conference. I am optimistic it will pass.
However, the Senate in Committee killed three of my bills that passed the House: Redistricting Transparency, Ending the State Funding of Religious Bigotry, and Police Accountability.
for Marriage Equality
Passes Year One!
Our Marriage Equality Amendment (HJ539, my Constitutional Amendment, was incorporated into Delegate Mark Sickles' HJ582) passed the Senate on Friday by a vote of 22-12.
This is exciting. The original Senate bill merely repealed the offensive Marshall-Newman prohibition on same-sex marriage. But the bill that has now passed both houses incorporates the very important language I drafted that affirmatively protects marriage equality:
The Commonwealth ... shall issue marriage licenses, recognize marriages, and treat all marriages equally under the law regardless of the sex or gender of the parties to the marriage.
Religious organizations and clergy acting in their religious capacity shall have the right to refuse to perform any marriage.
My language makes clear that Virginia must issue marriage licenses regardless of the gender of the parties. And they must recognize out-of-state and foreign marriages equally.
Furthermore, my amendment makes clear the right of religious organizations to refuse to marry whomever they want. You might want to know why I included that language in the amendment. Well, first of all, it is already the First Amendment right of a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, minister, priest, rabbi, or imam to choose to officiate over the marriages over whomever they wish based on the dictates of their religion.
A church can refuse to marry an interfaith couple. It could even refuse to marry an interracial couple. Most of us would find that offensive, but this is part of the free exercise of their religion. And since it is already part of the First Amendment, I saw no harm in letting Virginian voters know we weren't disturbing religious freedom.
Are there limits on that freedom? Yes, and I make clear those limits in my constitutional amendment. Only religious organizations and clergy acting in their religious capacity can refuse to perform a marriage. So a marriage court clerk who is a minister could not constitutionally refuse to marry a gay couple based on the minister's faith. When acting as an agent of the state, the minister must treat all citizens equally, even if the minister's faith tradition would not allow a same-sex, interfaith, or interracial marriage.
The first part of the amendment was added by Delegate Mark Sickles:
That the right to marry is a fundamental right, inherent in the liberty of persons, and marriage is one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness.
I had no problem adding that ringing prefix to the substance of my amendment, and so I incorporated my amendment into his.
Full marriage equality is now (1) a third of the way to becoming part of the Virginia Constitution. To succeed, it must also (2) pass the House and Senate again in 2022; and (3) be approved by a majority of Virginia voters in November 2022.
If all goes well, you will see the very language I crafted on your ballot in November 2022. This was made possible only because Virginia voters elected a Democratic majority to both the House of Delegates and the Senate in 2019. These majorities must be re-elected in the House of Delegates in 2021 for marriage equality to have a chance of actually being enshrined in the Virginia Constitution.
Two of My Bills Pass the Senate;
The Governor Must Now Take Action on Them
The broad bipartisan support for my Virtual Meetings Bill (HB1931) continued on the Senate Floor, passing 28-11.
The bill increases local elected officials' ability to meet virtually and will make it easier for people who have to act as caretakers to their family members to serve their communities.
Based off of how it moved through the General Assembly -- passing the House 99-0, and the Senate 28-11 -- you might think this bill was easy. But, like many of my other bills, the one was also a multi-year effort. When I first introduced this bill last year, it passed the House on a mostly party-line vote only to stall in a Senate committee. The Senate sent the bill to the FOIA Council to be studied. I worked with the FOIA Council and stakeholders throughout the Summer and Fall of 2020 to set this bill up for success.
I'm not predisposed to introduce bills that are easy to pass. I tend to leave those for others, so that I may work on the harder-to-pass the bills, like the next one which I'm thrilled passed the Senate and is now on the way to the Governor for his signature.
HB2081, my Safe Elections Bill, banning guns in polling places and vote counting and recounting centers, passed the Senate on Thursday, by a vote of 21-18.
Our polling places and vote counting centers are the heart of our democracy. Virginia's voters, election workers, and public servants must be protected from intimidation and threats of violence. Those with guns don't make the rules. Voters do.
This commonsense bill will have us join a host of other states, including Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina and Texas, in explicitly prohibiting guns in polling places.
I want to thank the long list of groups that spoke in support of the bill, including: the Voter Registrars Association of Virginia; New Virginia Majority; the League of Women Voters of Virginia; the Virginia Civic Engagement Table, a coalition of more than 40 progressive groups; and leading gun violence prevention groups, including the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Brady: United Against Gun Violence, the Virginia Center for Public Safety, Everytown/Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Now the same signs that ban electioneering within 40 feet of a polling place will ban firearms as well, (except for police or designated security or people living or working in the building next door).
Elections can be contentious times, and we don't need armed voters arguing with one another. Voters can leave their weapons locked in the car (or not bring them to the polls at all!)
Capitol Gun Ban Sent to Senate
And Then Likely Conference
The third bill I hope and expect to pass the Senate and become law is probably my most controversial and most far-reaching this year, at least with regard to day-to-day public safety for elected officials: my Safe Capitol bill (HB2295), which would ban firearms in the Capitol and Capitol Square, state government buildings and offices. I have written about this bill at length in past newsletters. It has to go through conference, but we are very close to agreement, and I hope to tell you of its successful passage next weekend.
Watch the Senate Judiciary Committee report my HB2295 by clicking here.
I told Senate Judiciary I was perfectly fine working out my bill in conference. But Senator Scott Surovell said that he preferred my bill to its senate companion, because it covered more area, including some of the streets bordering the Capitol complex. I still need to add a couple of technical amendments, but I'm optimistic the bill will pass. Stay tuned. You can read more about this bill in past newsletters.
Three of My Bills Killed by the Senate
1. On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee killed HB2082, my Redistricting Transparency Bill that passed the House with a bipartisan majority. The equation for the bill was simple: more transparency + more public input = fairer maps. Unfortunately, they disagreed.
The Senators who killed the bill voted not to allow the public see the maps before they were created. They voted against requiring the maps be posted on the Redistricting Commission's website. Above all, they insisted on the right of the Virginia Supreme Court acting as a Backup Commission to draw maps in secret and to have secret conversations with politicians, lobbyists, and others who might want to influence them off the record.
Under Constitutional Amendment 1, you'll recall, it takes only two members of the Commission to stymie the other 14, disband the Commission, and send the maps to the Virginia Supreme Court. On the Commission, 2 > 14. That was part of Amendment 1 and one major reason I opposed it. I called it the "poison pill".
The two objecting members may be of the same political party. So, if two Republicans, say, on the Commission believe it will help them to gerrymander Virginia to favor their party, they can kick the matter over to the same Virginia Supreme Court members they appointed in the last decade (Recall Republicans remained in control of the General Assembly -- and appointed the Virginia Supreme Court -- by gerrymandering maps to favor their party, even though Democratic Delegates got the majority of votes in years like 2017.)
I argued before the committee that if we required the Virginia Supreme Court by law to use maps drawn by both a Democratic and a Republican Special Master, the Court would be far less likely to act politically or unfairly. I said with both a Democrat and a Republican involved in the map drawing, the maps would be more fair.
And if the Supreme Court were required to do their work openly and transparently under the same standards as the commission, I argued, two members of the Commission would be less likely to send redistricting to the court in the first place. After all, if the Supreme Court were held to the same transparency standards as the Redistricting Commission, why would two commissioners choose to use the poison pill to disband the bipartisan Commission?
My arguments did not prevail. A combination of Democratic and Republican Senators argued that we should try it the way it was written, and, if we get terribly gerrymandered secret maps and the entire thing turns into a fiasco, we could always fix the law and get new maps...in 2031..perhaps under Republican rule (who would have every incentive to keep gerrymandering)
I didn't think having bad maps for another 10 years was worth the risk of not requiring them to do it fairly and transparently in the first place.
Very few supporters of Amendment 1 showed up at the hearing to fight for transparency. In fact, I'm not sure any did. While they spent millions of out-of-state money on the campaign, they would not show up to support a process to fix some of the Amendment's worst flaws.
Last year, when I argued the Amendment was flawed, its supporters agreed it was flawed and said that it was ok because I could always introduce legislation to fix the flaws and they would be there by my side to fix its flaws. But when the time came, they were nowhere to be found. I was disappointed, but I can't say I was surprised.
Will Republicans gerrymander Virginia based on this flawed Amendment?
Will the Virginia Supreme Court draw partisan maps?
Will they have secret conversations with partisan line drawers with no public accountability?
I don't know. But I do know I did all I could to stop it.
At this point, I can only hope and pray that the Commission will be fair.
I would be thrilled if it is. Thrilled to be proven wrong if it turns out my concerns were overstated...I hope and pray fair maps will be drawn without the parameters and guidelines and transparency I attempted to impose on the Commission and the Supreme Court.
I fear the worst and hope for the best.
I just wish more lawmakers shared my concerns and supported my attempts to ensure a fair and transparent process.
I wish I could do more than hope and pray. But I've done my best. I know I did everything I could possibly to do to make the process more fair and transparent.
I fought all the way to the final buzzer. But now, time is up.
I wash my hands of it.
Will Virginia be gerrymandered in 2021?
At a time, when state legislatures and Congressional seats remain primarily under Republican control due to gerrymandering blessed nationwide by the 6-3 Republican majority on the United States Supreme Court, it would be terrible if Virginia, which is now under Democratic control, reverted to a Republican gerrymander due to pollyannaish legislators who just hoped for the best but took few steps to ensure proper checks and balances.
I still believe the vast majority of amendment supporters, like those of us who opposed it, prefer transparent and fair maps over a partisan political Republican gerrymander.
But what will happen? Got me.
My only remaining hope is that, by my shining such an incredibly bright, hot spotlight on this flawed amendment, those who would gerrymander Virginia will refrain from doing so lest "Mark be right."
I sincerely pray I'm wrong and all goes well despite what I have long seen as a lack of sufficient precautions and guardrails.
I want to thank the Virginia Civic Engagement Table, the Virginia NAACP, Progress Virginia, the Virginia Grassroots Coalition, the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, and many pro-democracy activists for working with me on HB2082 and supporting it.
You can watch me present the bill to the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee by clicking the image below, and you can see it failed despite bipartisan support, because an interesting mix of Democrats and Republicans voted to kill it. Those who voted yes to kill the bill (pass it by indefinitely) are marked in green below. Those who supported redistricting transparency are listed in red.
Click here to hear the argument and vote on redistricting transparency (HB2082)
"Don't Make Virginia Fund Adoption Discrimination" Bill
2. HB1932, my "Don't Make Virginia Fund Adoption Discrimination" Bill, faced opposition on the Senate Floor this week after passing in an amended form out of the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee last week (as I described in my previous newsletter).
I was willing to take half a loaf, but then we learned that the McPike-Mason Amendment could harm LGBT kids and families nationwide by setting a terrible precedent for the United States Supreme Court in an upcoming case. When the two Senators refuse to budge on their amendment, we had no choice but to kill the bill. It was ultimately sent back to the Committee, where no action will be taken on it, and the bill will die.
For at least one more year, Virginia taxpayers will be forced to fund religious discrimination in adoption and foster care. Gay families seeking to give foster kids a loving, safe home will be denied the kids who need them most, even though doing so flies in the face of established best practices in child welfare.
It's not just gay families. The law as written requires Virginia to license, and taxpayers to fund, any private foster care agency that practices religious discrimination. In fact, this law has already been used to deny Jewish families the right to adopt in South Carolina. 15% of needy South Carolina kids are off limits to loving Jewish parents, because South Carolina, like Virginia, would rather see kids suffer and age out of foster care than be placed with people their legislature considers to be the "wrong kind" of people.
Taking this current Virginia law to its logical extreme, if a foster-care agency insisted on only placing children with worshippers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- or refused to place children with Christian families or White families -- current law would require Virginia to subsidize that discrimination as well (crazy as it may seem).
Somehow I think if that happened, the outcry would lead to the repeal of this ridiculous law. But the vast majority of faith-based organizations, like secular ones, don't want to harm kids just to do a test experiment to show how awful this law is. And I don't blame them. In fact, there's only one charity in all of Virginia that takes taxpayer money and wants to actively discriminate against Virginia families. And they foster only about 130 kids throughout the Commonwealth. (But they do have a large lobby.)
What happened to this bill shows once again the plain and simple truth that gay and trans families in Virginia and nationwide remain second-class citizens. You can actively discriminate against us in ways you just can't do to others. We are not yet first-class citizens, and we know it.
I am not going to give up this fight. I can't. Too many foster kids in Virginia need this bill to pass.
We will get this done.
We have a moral imperative to do so.
I'm putting this in the "not-yet-success" category.
We Shall Overcome Someday.
Good Apples Bill
3. HB1948, my Good Apples Bill, after passing the House with bipartisan support, failed to make it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee....twice.
As you'll recall, the bill as introduced does three common-sense things:
1. Makes it a duty for law enforcement to report acts of serious wrongdoing by their fellow officers on duty. (So if an officer watched their fellow officer commit a criminal act on duty and didn't tell anyone, the witnessing officer would face discipline).
2. Requires law enforcement officers on duty to aid people suffering from serious bodily injury or life-threatening conditions (So if an officer just sat and watched a man bleed out and die without calling 911, the officer would face discipline.)
3. Amends the definition of "bias-based profiling" to prohibit police harassment on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity as well as the currently prohibited categories of real or perceived race, gender, ethnicity, age, etc.
HB1948 failed on Monday. See below. (Yes here means support the bill. No means opposed.). Click the box to watch the hearing. No one spoke in opposition to it, but the bill still died. Strike 1.
I tried again on Wednesday. This time, the pared-down bill dealt solely with the question of whether police should be prohibited from profiling gay and trans Virginians. And this time, a different group of Senators voted to kill it. (Since it was a motion to pass by, here the red no votes illustrate those Senators who supported the bill while yes voters denote those opposed to the bill passing. Isn't legislating confusing?). You can watch the full hearing by clicking below.
But as you know, I don't give up easily.
This morning, at about the time this email is being sent to you, I plan to make one more last-ditch effort to save this bill by bringing it a third time to this same Committee. It's a long shot, I admit, but I'm going to postpone further commentary on the bill until we know what happened to it. Rest assured, when all is over, I will share with you the good, the bad, and the ugly on what happened here in all its glorious detail.
For now, it's mostly inglorious, but hope springs eternal. Stay tuned.
On Wednesday, one of the Democratic Senators on the panel made clear his belief that police profiling against transgender Virginians was "not a material issue." He couldn't be more wrong.
According to a study by the National Center for Transgender Equality, nearly half of all transgender Virginians report being harassed by police. Half of them also say they would be uncomfortable seeking police assistance. A 2013 study by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that transgender people of color were six times more likely to experience physical violence from the police compared to White non-transgender survivors and victims.
The ghosts of Stonewall would haunt us if we did not try again, year after year, until this bill becomes law.
A Wide Open LG Race
The first poll of Virginia's Democratic Primary for Lieutenant Governor has been taken.
The Wason Center of Christopher Newport University surveyed Democrats and independents who lean Democratic across Virginia to find their preferences for Lieutenant Governor.
And the winner was...
Well, do you want the bad news or the good news first?
If you like to hear bad news before good news, look immediately below.
If you prefer to hear good news first, cover the bad news and look below it.
I received only 2% in the polls
I'm in first place!
So are Virginia voters.
When asked who they preferred among the eight candidates running,
78% of Democratic-leaning Virginians volunteered "undecided."
9% volunteered "don't know" or refused to answer.
Only 13% had made a choice at all
And that choice split six ways!
Yes, I polled at only 2%, but I was tied for first with five of my competitors!
I can't recall any other election in my lifetime this wide open.
What all of this means is, if you contribute your time or your money to this campaign, I absolutely can win.
Unfortunately, there is no runoff or ranked-choice voting.
The one with the most votes wins.
Perhaps as little as 25% of the vote could well win the primary.
It's hard to think of another political race where the nature of your participation will make the difference in who wins or loses.
In sum, I need your help now more than ever.
With sufficient finances, I can introduce myself to millions of Virginia voters. I'm confident that they will support a transparent, accessible, full-time Lieutenant Governor with a solidly progressive track record who is known for fighting as hard as humanly possible and is unafraid to tell it like it is.
With your help, we could make history:
I would become the first openly gay Lieutenant Governor in American history ever elected in any of the 50 states, as well as the first statewide Rainbow (openly LGBTQ+) elected official in more than four centuries of Virginia history.
Even if you can't donate much (can you give $10?), we could absolutely use you as a volunteer. Please consider joining Team Levine. Whether your time commitment is large or small, my friendly Field Director DeLancey is really good at finding ways for you to help the campaign that fit your time and inclination.
Whether or not I become your next Lieutenant Governor is almost as much in your hands as it is in mine.
Mark's Monthly Meetup
February 28, 1-3 pm
The special session adjourns next Saturday. Join me on Sunday as I share details on all that we accomplished or failed to accomplish during the 2021 session.
And, just in case you were curious, yes, I absolutely intend to continue Mark's Monthly Meetups if I'm Virginia's next Lieutenant Governor. If that happens, I suspect we will have to get a bigger Zoom room.
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