On Sunday morning at 11:52 am, after being unusually extended an extra day, the 2019 Virginia General Assembly adjourned sine die. The whirlwind seven weeks of the "short session" has come to an end. I'm really glad to be home in Alexandria.
To get an idea of how fast-paced the short session always is, I encourage you to read the first article in the news section from the Virginia Mercury: Tracking bills during the General Assembly session: like drinking from a firehose
The moment of adjournment.
We ended one day late.
And then I rushed home to attend Mark's Monthly Meetup.
To say the least, it was an unusually challenging session. House and Senate Democrats called for the resignation of the Governor soon after he apologized for appearing in a racist medical-school yearbook photograph, only to have him deny being in that photograph the very next day. We also called for the resignation of the Lieutenant Governor after two credible sexual-assault allegations were made against him.
But, in a much less noticed story, when the Leader of the Senate, Republican Senator Tommy Norment was discovered to be the managing editor of his college yearbook that included blackface and racist slurs, Republicans did not call upon him to resign.
It seems to me that the managing editor of a yearbook has far more responsibility for a yearbook's content than the students pictured within its pages. But as usual, we Democrats hold our leaders to a higher standard than Republicans hold their leaders. At any rate, as of this writing, it looks like none of Virginia's leaders have any intention of leaving office. And so, I will continue to work with all of them in order to serve you.
During the session, Virginia Republicans -- despite being solidly rejected 55%-45% by Virginia voters in 2017 -- continued to wield power via their slim 51-49 and 21-19 majorities obtained courtesy of their 2011 illegal racial gerrymander. So progressive measures like gun-safety legislation, minimum wage increases, LGBT civil rights, environmental protection, and the Equal Rights Amendment were dead on arrival.
Despite the scandals and despite serving in the minority, we House Democrats still managed to eke out some major victories, particularly in the budget process, which increased funding substantially for education, affordable housing, and $25 million to help Alexandria fund the overhaul of our 19th-century combined sewer system. As I described last week, a small group of us, by withholding our votes on a crucial tax bill, were able to push through some of these great budget victories.
All week long, Senator Amanda Chase and I got more than two-thirds of House Delegates and Senators to sign on to the Virginia Transparency Caucus letter we circulated in our respective chambers. That's a powerful bipartisan, bicameral endorsement of cameras in subcommittees. It's the first event of the week I will describe below.
The Virginia Transparency Caucus:
More than Two-Thirds of Virginia General Assembly
Demand Cameras to Monitor the Legislative Process
Senator Amanda Chase and I delivering the Transparency Caucus letter to House Clerk Paul Nardo and Senate Clerk Susan Schaar. It was signed by 97 legislators: more than 2/3 of each Chamber!
On Sunday, the last day of session, Senator Amanda Chase and I -- Co-Chairs and Co-Founders of the Virginia Transparency Caucus -- submitted a bipartisan, bicameral letter addressed to the Clerks of both the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates, signed by 68 of the 100 Delegates and 29 of the 40 Senators. The letter, endorsed by more than two-thirds of legislators in both bodies, requested the recording and archiving of the General Assembly’s subcommittee meetings. It was signed by Minority Leader of the House Eileen Filler-Corn, Majority Leader of the Senate Tommy Norment, and Minority Leader of the Senate Richard Saslaw, but Speaker of the House Kirk Cox declined to endorse the letter.
In 2017, the Transparency Caucus circulated a similar letter, signed by 85 legislators, which resulted the following year in the archiving of all footage from the Senate and House Floors, the streaming and archiving of all committee meetings, and the recording of all subcommittee votes relating to the ultimate disposition of legislation. But our job remained unfinished.
Click image above to watch video of my introducing the VTC letter to the House of Delegates.
Subcommittees are where the primary work of the House of Delegates gets done. More than half of all House legislation fails in subcommittee, and it’s where the majority of House bills get amended and discussed at length. Once a bill hits full committee or the Floor of the House or Senate, legislation usually passes with little discussion. It’s time for the public – and not just the lobbyists – to be able to see how the real hard work of the General Assembly is done.
Last year and this year, I introduced a budget amendment to include the streaming and archiving of subcommittee meetings. But when this $60,000 allocation was not included in the final budget, I knew we had to act to show the widespread support in the General Assembly for full transparency for Virginia.
Two-thirds of both bodies is a powerful endorsement of transparency. Two-thirds of both bodies is enough to suspend the rules or overturn a Governor's veto. Surely, it should be enough support to convince House and Senate Leadership to allow ordinary Virginians the opportunity to see what their elected representatives do behind closed doors.
The Press is understandably enamored of our effort. I even received praise from the very partisan Republican Standard!
Effort to Increase Subcommittee Transparency Moving Through General Assembly
General Assembly May Look to Shed Light on Subcommittee Hearings
The Republican Standard
You can read the letter (without its 97 signatures) below.
Click here to see who signed it and who did not.
Yet Again, Republicans Block the
Equal Rights Amendment
On Thursday, Democrats used a highly unusual parliamentary maneuver to bring ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Floor of the House of Delegates. Having been defeated both in subcommittee and in full committee on party-line votes, ERA advocates requested that Democrats force the measure to the Floor. They thought they had the votes for ratification.
You see, all 49 Democrats in the House of Delegates strongly support the ERA. And three Republican Delegates claimed they endorsed it as well. Republican Delegates Roxann Robinson and Chris Stolle even co-patroned the legislation!
So, advocates argued: 49 Democrats + 2 or 3 Republicans = 51 or 52 Delegates, a majority of the Chamber. And as the ERA had already been ratified by the Virginia Senate, this should be an easy win.
Unfortunately, advocates do not understand Republican math.
As I said in my newsletter last week:
"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. 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.
"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 these Republicans don't vote as they say they will, we can once and for all prove all their rhetoric about believing women should be equal under the law is as empty and hypocritical as their false avowals that they believe 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."
Sadly, the vote transpired exactly as I predicted. Republicans like Roxann Robinson and Chris Stolle, who claim to support the ERA and LGBT rights say they support such measures in order to seem "moderate." But when push comes to shove, Republicans never vote for the civil-rights bills they claim to support. Even Republican David Yancey, who joined the 49 Democrats to make the ERA vote 50-50, only did so because he was assured by his Leadership that if he cast his vote with Democrats, the ERA effort would still fail.
And Republican Senators who voted for the ERA also did so knowing the House Republican Leadership would prevent a vote in the House. Rest assured, if we turn the House blue and the Senate remains Republican, all of the Senate Republicans who pretend to support the ERA and gay rights will flip-flop just as Stolle and Robinson did.
It's all a sham. There's only one sure-fire way to pass the ERA: elect a Democratic majority in the Virginia General Assembly. With a Democratic majority in both chambers, we will easily ratify the ERA next year. And when we do, don't be surprised if a few Republicans join us. Because when their votes don't matter, they will pretend to be moderates once again.
Every Democrat voted to bring the ERA up for a vote.
But Republicans who claimed to support the ERA flip-flopped to ensure its defeat.
Just as Republicans who pretended to support LGBT rights flip-flopped last week.
It doesn't matter what you say; what matters is how you vote.
Republicans in the Virginia Legislature cannot be trusted to support equal rights.
The sun rises over the Virginia Capitol.
Legislating is full of yin and yang. As angry as I am with Republicans for opposing equal rights, an increase in the minimum wage, or any reasonable gun-safety measures, I continue to work with them on transparency, animal rights, and modest health-care measures. One reason why a legislative day seems like a week is not just because it can start at 6 am and end after midnight. It's because so much happens emotionally as well as technically. In one single day, you can be in despair one moment and elated the next!
So turning from despair to elation, I happily supported our final budget result. I had voted against the first budget proposal, because I did not feel it provided enough education or housing dollars and because it neglected to include funding for Alexandria's combined sewer overhaul. But, with only a few small exceptions, the final budget was as good or better than I had hoped for.
Here are some highlights from the several-hundred-page budget that changed my vote from no to yes:
Raising public school teachers' salaries by 5%;
Raising state and state-supported local employees' pay by 3%;
$94 million for higher education with no tuition increases but with an increase in financial aid;
$194 million for K-12;
$25 million for at-risk students, which would help school districts (like Alexandria) with high concentrations of students on free and reduced lunch;
$12 million for additional school counselors;
$74 million for water quality;
$15 million to expand broadband access;
$14 million (a more than 25% increase) for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund over the next two years;
$104,050 to study how to reduce eviction; and
my personal favorite: $25 million for Alexandria's combined sewer overhaul
It may just look like a bunch of boring numbers, but hidden in the fine print is $25 million for Alexandria!
After the General Assembly voted to require Alexandria to overhaul its 19th-century sewage system two years ago, I insisted to the Governor and to House Appropriations Chair Chris Jones that it was only fair that Alexandria -- like Richmond and Lynchburg before us -- get our fair share of state funds for this very expensive effort.
Hats off to Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw and Delegate Mark Sickles for pulling out all the stops to get that money in the final budget. I know it was the number one legislative priority of the Alexandria Mayor and City Council as well. The City of Alexandria's Legislative Director, Sarah Taylor, also deserves a lot of credit for her advocacy efforts on this.
Don't wait! File your taxes and get your refund today!
As you may recall from prior newsletters, Republicans held up the right of Virginians to file their taxes and collect their refunds in order to double down on the Trump Tax Scheme and funnel tax revenue from Virginia's working-class and middle-class taxpayers into the pockets of Virginia's millionaires and billionaires.
But we stopped them. Democrats insisted on a compromise measure that gives substantial tax relief to nearly 2 million Virginia taxpayers by boosting the standard deduction by 50 percent: from $3,000 to $4,500 for individuals and from $6,000 to $9,000 for married couples. This is the first increase since 2005 for people who choose not to itemize deductions on their state returns.
The package also diverges from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which President Donald Trump signed almost 14 months ago, by removing a $10,000 federal cap on deductions for local property taxes (primarily for real estate) and maintaining the cap, removed by the Trump tax law, on total deductions by wealthy Virginia taxpayers earning more than $313,000.
My bill HB2425 is on its way to becoming law.
Schoolhouse Rock 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.
This week, the bill passed its way out of the Senate unanimously.
It's now on its way to the Governor to be signed into law!
Protecting Animals and Preventing Domestic Violence
In Alexandria, an angry abusive man took revenge on his wife by throwing her pets out of the window. The neighbors called 911 and the police came and arrested the man, but because he had committed a misdemeanor and not a felony, he was sent back home. Upon his return home, he stabbed his wife to death.
Based on this horrific incident and other similar occurrences across Virginia and the nation, I introduced HB2642 to make it a felony to use cruelty toward animals to coerce, intimidate, or harass a household or family member.
The bill went through House Courts of Justice subcommittee and committee and passed 99-0 out of the House of Delegates. Two weeks ago I presented the bill to the Senate Agricultural, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee, which also voted unanimously in favor of it 15-0 but sent it on to the Senate Finance Committee, which heard the bill Monday.
The Senate Finance Committee, which is supposed to be focused solely on the fiscal impact of the bill (and we had money set aside in the budget for it in the House and the Senate) ultimately killed the bill, based on what initially appeared to have been a misunderstanding. One member of the committee, Republican Caucus Chairman Senator Ryan McDougle, misstated what the bill does, claiming that it was unnecessary because it was redundant with SB1604 and HB1874, two good animal rights bills but bills that did nothing to address animal cruelty as a form of domestic violence. It was evident from his comments at the hearing that McDougle had not understood my two-line bill. He thought I was changing the felony standard for animal cruelty when all I was doing was introducing a new felony when animal cruelty is combined with a threat of domestic violence.
The link between animal abuse and domestic violence is overwhelming.
But Senate Republicans have closed their eyes to it.
Part of the problem with this whole effort has to do with "incorporation." This is the technical term the Senate uses to express rolling one patron's bill into another, and it is used to give one member "credit" for another's bill. For example, Senators Bill Stanley and Adam Ebbin, who originally chief co-patroned this bill in the Senate, had their version incorporated into another bill, Republican Senator DeSteph's SB1604. And my bill HB2642 was incorporated into Republican Delegate Ransone's HB1874.
This sounds all well and good, but the language of my bill was not actually put into the new bill. When incorporation occurs, it is up to the individual member to continue to fight for the legislative language. After Senators Stanley and Ebbin declined to incorporate domestic violence language into SB1604 when it left the Senate, I insisted on the language being incorporated in one of the final bills. But it turned out to be impossible (and maddingly frustrating). Senator Bill DeSteph refused to include the language in SB1604 because Senator McDougle was mad at me for gently stating at the hearing that he misunderstood what the bills did. I tried with HB1874 as well, but Delegate Ransone also said that Senator McDougle's ire at my trying to correct his misunderstanding prevented her from changing the bill in conference.
So why was Senator McDougle so angry? Watch the hearing below and see if you can figure it out. What would you do if your bill were so misunderstood? I was left with the Catch-22 of a) not explaining the bill and allowing it to be defeated based on the misunderstanding; or b) explaining the bill and telling the committee Senator McDougle had his facts wrong. As you'll see from the video below, I chose option b.
Click on the image above to watch my presentation of HB2642 in Senate Finance
Unfortunately, Senator McDougle apparently did not take kindly to being told he misunderstood my legislation. And I was given such limited time that it was clear to me that when I'd finished, none of the Republican Senators who voted on the bill knew exactly what they were voting on. Three Senators who supported the bill in Agriculture Committee flipped their votes, and McDougle afterwards even accused me of "impugning his character." That afternoon and over the next few days, I tried several times to meet with McDougle in his office or on the Floor to privately point out his error. After all, if it was all just a misunderstanding, it would have taken less than five minutes to explain. But he refused to meet with me.
This is part of the problem with serving in the minority. When you're in the majority like Delegate Ransone, you can introduce a bill that just restates current law and have it transformed into a Republican Senator's animal-cruelty bill. But when you serve in the minority, your very good bill can be killed because one Republican Senator misunderstood it and then gets mad and refuses to listen to reason. We are called to review thousands of bills in only a few weeks, and so it is easy to make a mistake. I'm always open to discuss with any bill patron his or her bill to make sure I get their bill right, and it's one reason why I ask so many questions on the Floor. (See "Defense" section below.) It is unfortunate that some members of the General Assembly seem to take things personally rather than being committed to getting language and policy right. If you're certain you are right and not acting out of personal pique, why would you not at least meet with the patron of a bill who tried several times to meet with you?
I guess I should be happy that I get "credit" for HB1874, which, as amended, became an important bill that does prevent some acts of animal cruelty to companion cats and dogs when the cat or dog does not die. But I'm not about getting credit; I'm about getting the right language enacted into code. I will come back next year with my same bill, and if Democrats are in the majority, I'm confident it will sale through. In the meantime, I will continue to defend my bills against misinformation. I realize that some may feel insulted when I do this, but it is never personal for me. I just think it's really important to get the facts right.
Redistricting Reform Passes First Hurdle,
But Serious Problems Remain
A constitutional amendment for redistricting reform cleared its first hurdle on Saturday when the General Assembly voted in favor of HJ615 / SJ306. I have long argued we need an independent commission deciding our legislative boundaries. District boundaries should reflect the political will of the People of Virginia. I think the voters of Virginia should be able to pick their elected state representatives, not the other way around.
I supported the original SJ306, but as amended by Republicans, the measure contained some serious flaws. I voted in favor of the flawed measure this session, because it requires two successive votes and a referendum by the people to become part of the Virginia Constitution. But I am not ruling out voting against it next year, as I'll explain below. The measure does do some good things:
It establishes a redistricting commission of 8 legislators (4 from each chamber) and 8 citizens;
It requires a supermajority of each group (at least 6 of the 8 legislators, including 3 from each chamber, and 6 of the 8 citizens) to approve the district map;
It requires public hearings and full transparency of all meetings, minutes and data;
It provides that the General Assembly can only do an up-or-down vote on the district maps. The General Assembly can not offer any amendments to the maps.
So far so good. And if the Commission comes up with maps supported by a supermajority, I'd be fine with those maps. But the plan has two fundamental flaws:
It excludes the Governor from the approval process; and more importantly,
It allows the Virginia Supreme Court to step in and draw the maps if the Commission does not reach agreement
Clearly this is not the "independent commission" I wanted to see. The major concern I have with the proposal is denoted in red above. The Governor, who is excluded from the process, is elected by the People of Virginia. But the members of the Virginia Supreme Court, which can step in and draw the lines, are not elected by the people.
All the members of the Supreme Court were chosen by the Republicans who currently control the General Assembly solely due to their illegal racial gerrymander. (You'll recall the People of Virginia rejected Republican majority rule, by electing Democrats in 2017 by a 55%-45% margin.)
We could end up in a situation where, even if voters choose Democrats to represent them in the Legislature and the Governor's office in 2019, the 2021 lines would still be drawn by partisan Republicans on the Virginia Supreme Court who themselves were chosen by partisan Republicans who illegally drew their own racially-gerrymandered lines. And thus, against the will of the voters, a group chosen by a 2011 illegal racial gerrymander could continue their gerrymander well into 2031. If this happened, it would actually be a step backward from legislative gerrymandering.
The Original Gerry-Mander proposed by Governor Gerry
of Massachusetts in 1812 was shaped like a salamander.
The problem is not with the composition of the commission. The problem is with the backstop of the Virginia Supreme Court. To give you an idea of how unrepresentative that court is, none of the seven justices on the Virginia Supreme Court (or the eleven jurists on the Virginia Court of Appeals) hale from Fairfax, Arlington, or Alexandria (20% of Virginia)!
As noted, the final Republican-backed proposal was not the one originally put forward by One Virginia 2021 or Senator George Barker. I remain open-minded on it, which is why I voted for it in round one. But absent a dramatic change in the Virginia Supreme Court, I just don't see how we can trust it to be a fair arbiter in this process, unless we give it much clearer criteria on how to draw the lines fairly. I'm hopeful we can do this through future legislation, but I remain skeptical.
Over the next year, I will be very deliberate in reviewing the proposal through the lens of "one person, one vote." It is essential to me that Virginia redistricting lines reflect the Virginia polity. And if that can't be done under this Constitutional Amendment, I will vote against it in 2020.
That said, I have a year to consider how I will vote in 2020, and I encourage folks to reach out to me on this. Let's discuss the best way forward.
My Role as Deputy Whip
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.
Prior to the last week of session, we usually have a day or two to examine bills before voting on them. But in the final week, conference reports (agreements between House and Senate on bills) come at you fast and furious. Sometimes you have only a few minutes to examine an amended bill prior to voting on it. In such a case, my job as Deputy Democratic Whip becomes even more important. I have to be a good Caucus Goalie and catch these bills before they hit the net. Here are examples of some bills I caught this week:
Should Virginia Ban Abortions?
Should Virginia Require Torture of a Dying Infant?
SJ299 began as a modest resolution by Senator Jennifer McClellan -- whose child was born premature -- to alert Virginians to the problems and solutions of premature births and to designate one day a year as World Prematurity Day. Like most resolutions of this type, it didn't change the legal code.
But the Republicans hijacked the resolution to put in language to condemn parents who choose not to torture dying infants, all in order to indirectly condemn abortion. Delegate Kathy Byron introduced an amendment to the resolution stating:
"Whereas, babies who are delivered prematurely or are subject to preterm birth have a right to life"
What does "subject to preterm birth" mean? Got me. I didn't know. So I asked Delegate Byron. Play the video below to watch her response.
Click image above to watch:
Questioning of Delegate Kathy Byron on her Anti-Abortion Amendment
If you listen to the clip above, you'll see that Delegate Byron doesn't appear to understand her amendment either. First, she asks for the line number for her one-line floor amendment. Then she says "pre-term birth" means "babies who are not born yet" (i.e. fetuses, embryos, zygotes, egg and sperm). So she introduced, as I expected, a convoluted amendment saying fetuses have a "right to life" that would put the Virginia Legislature on record as opposing all abortions, even in the first trimester. She has tried to conflate babies who are born prematurely with a conjoined egg and sperm that could later be born.
Perhaps Republican Majority Leader Delegate Todd Gilbert thought I made my point too well. He asked me whether a "born child has a right to life." I said that for a healthy child or a child whose life can be saved, "absolutely," but where an infant is born dying, parents shouldn't necessarily be forced to torture a dying infant so that it lives a few hours longer in wracking pain. I then shared the story of a friend of mine, who had a baby born with trisomy 13. This is a story I shared in detail in a prior newsletter.
The amendment passed over my objection, but my point had been made. The resolution did not pass the Senate again and thus failed to be adopted.
Should Paid Family Medical Leave Be Restricted in Virginia?
Republican Delegate Roxann Robinson's HB2234 looked like a decent bill on the surface. It looked like a Republican had finally stepped up to codify at least a modicum of parental leave benefits for workers, even if it only applied to state employees. It was the companion bill for Republican Senator David Suetterlein's SB1581, which sought to codify Governor Northam's Executive Order giving paid family medical leave to state employees. It flew through both House and Senate uncontested.
Unfortunately, what came out of conference was a weakened SB1581. The final version of the bill that we had to vote on codified Governor Northam's Executive Order, except for one big caveat: it completely excluded foster parents. Thus the bill provided no paid family medical leave to a single Virginia family that did not have it but would serve to exclude Virginian foster parents that did have the benefit. I pulled the bill from the uncontested block, and after questioning the bill patron about this, I could no longer vote for it.
Click image above to watch:
Questioning of Delegate Roxann Robinson on her Anti-Family Leave Bill
Even though the bill went through the process entirely uncontested prior to my questioning it, I spoke against the legislation and persuaded several of my colleagues to join me. I will be encouraging the Governor to veto this proposal.
When I speak against a bill, I rarely cause the bill to die right there on the spot (a tough task when you serve in the minority party). The goal is to raise enough questions and concerns about a bill to get the Governor's attention and provide him some political cover to veto. It is much easier for the Governor to veto a bill that has some "no" votes on it than it is for him to veto a bill that passed unanimously.
Should Virginia Tell Immigrants They Are Unwelcome?
Of course, this is not possible in the first place: state and local law can not legally
pre-empt federal law, a point I made clear in a short speech on the House Floor by reading from the United States Constitution.
Click above image to watch:
Reading the Constitution on the Floor of the House of Delegates
The only thing such a law would do is send a clear message to Virginia's immigrants: you are not welcome here.
The bill passed on a party line vote in the House. I'm sure I won't be the only Democrat encouraging the Governor to veto it.
I don't always have to speak on a bill to raise red flags. All I have to do sometimes is pull a bill from the uncontested calendar and then encourage my caucus to vote against it. Last week, these bills included the following:
SB1150 - a bill to make it more difficult to arrest renegade law enforcement;
SB1592 - a bill to allow larger businesses with hundreds of employees to get small-business tax credits and thus crowd out legitimate small business;
SB1626 - a bill to make it virtually impossible for a poor evicted tenant to appeal their eviction; and
SB1782 - a bill that would prevent former burglars who've served their time from becoming notaries. This seems to be a direct attack on a friend of mine who actually notarized the signatures on my voting petitions. Decades ago in his youth, Frank was with a bad crowd who committed some burglaries. But after serving some time in prison, he came out of prison, completely reformed his life, and now proudly serves as Executive Director of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee. Frank, like others in Virginia, is an honorable man who should have a chance to put his past behind him.
And what does it say about Republicans that they would refuse to allow an ex-burglar from decades ago to serve as a notary but they would insist on the right of convicted murderers, upon immediate release from prison or while out on bail, to have easy access to firearms with no background checks or penalties to the gun seller?
Honoring Great Alexandrians
Along with the work of improving people's lives and protecting the vulnerable, one great thing about being a Delegate is that it gives me the opportunity to honor wonderful people who have shaped our community. This year, I introduced three resolutions to do just that.
HJ1098 celebrated the life of Mrs. Willie Mae Mitchell, the founder and owner of Tops of Old Town, which you can still find right in the heart of Del Ray. Mrs. Mitchell passed away this summer. She was more than a shop owner known for wearing colorful clothes and hats. She was a woman of faith and a devoted volunteer for many community organizations, and she generously donated clothes and apparel from her shop to help those in need. She wanted people could look their best whether it be for a job interview or funeral service.
HR439 commended the Alexandria Library on its 225th anniversary. Not many people know that, along with being one of the longest continuously running libraries in the country, the Queen Street location is also the site of the very first non-violent sit-in of the Civil Rights Movement.
HJ742 commended the Living Legends of Alexandria for its work recognizing those who make a positive impact on the City. By acting as a living history of the civic life of Alexandria, Living Legends encourages Alexandrians to be active citizens and volunteers. The living legends who have been honored by serve as a shining example to us all.
And finally, I moved that the House of Delegates adjourn in the honor and memory of Fay Slotnick, who, I was stunned to learn, died last Tuesday. Many of you know Fay through her dedicated work helping struggling families through the Parent Leadership Training Institute and her fierce devotion to the Alexandria Democratic Party. It's still hard to believe she's gone. She will be sorely missed.
Anyone who reads all of this very long newsletter deserves special commendation.
On to November
If there is one takeaway from this legislative session, it is this: Virginia needs a Democratic majority in both chambers of the General Assembly.
This year, Democrats introduced legislation to:
- Get serious about fighting climate change
- Enhance workers' rights and raise the minimum wage
- Make it easier to vote
- Protect consumers
- Reduce the school-to-prison pipeline
- Protect immigrants
- Protect children from domestic violence and abuse
- Protect the elderly from abuse
- Make our criminal justice system fairer and more effective
- Repeal onerous abortion rules that harm women's health
- Reform our campaign finance system to return power to the people
- Protect Virginians from gun violence
- Improve our education system
- Protect LGBTQ Virginians from discrimination, and
- Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment
Republicans did not support these measures.
In November 2019, every one of the 140 Members of the General Assembly will be up for election. All the Virginia Delegates, who have two-year terms, and Virginia Senators, who have four-year terms, will be up for election this year. And given the tight margins (51-49 in the House and 21-19 in the Senate), it's anyone's guess as to which party will win control in November. if the Democrats take over, we can finally pass progressive legislation that has been dormant for decades.
If you like how I represent you (or just how much work I put in my newsletters) and you want to help me defend other progressive priorities, I could use your help.
Could you chip in a contribution?
Every bit counts, even small donations.
I will be running for re-election this November. If I have a Democratic primary opponent, that election will be held on June 11. If I don't, then the money you contribute will go toward protecting our vulnerable Democratic incumbents and electing Democrats in competitive seats.
Years ago, I called this task Mission 51 because my goal was a majority in the Virginia House of Delegates. But Mission 55 would be an even worthier goal and not out of reach!
It is always my honor and privilege to serve you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District