Representing Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax

Newsletter - February 3, 2019

I decided to start with the good news. And heck, there's far more good news than bad news anyway...

To say law week was a busy week is an understatement. Last week, sixteen of my bills passed the House, a committee, or a subcommittee. And five were continued to next year. 

As this new Democratic House has introduced 40% more bills than any other House in Virginia history, it's been a very busy time. Most weekdays, I woke up around 6 am and finished work after midnight. I made it back to Alexandria Friday night and collapsed and slept through much of Saturday. Today (Sunday) I am rested and spent most of the day writing you this newsletter in anticipation of one more very long full week in subcommittees and committees. (It's now about 10:30 pm Sunday, and I need to hop in the car and get back to Richmond. As my email client couldn't handle an email this long anyway, I decided to send part one on Monday morning and part two on Wednesday).

After next week, House committee work on House bills concludes. And then, on February 10 and 11, we have two days of votearama leading up to crossover, the hard and fast deadline where every bill must leave the House or die for the year. This year, crossover is February 12. So all House bills must pass by February 11.

In sum, a lot is happening very fast, as an historic House of Delegates is proceeding quickly to do the work the people of Virginia elected us to do.

This week, the General Assembly completed the process of officially ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.   And our Attorney General Mark Herring is making sure that the will of the people is respected by suing the federal government to ensure the amendment is enacted.

This week, the House also passed:

No-excuse absentee voting;

Payday lending reform (including my bill to clamp down on absurdly high interest rates);

Raising the felony larceny threshold to $1,000; and,

Seven gun violence prevention bills, including: 

  • Universal background checks
  • Extreme risk protection orders
  • One handgun a month
  • Requiring lost or stolen firearms be reported to law enforcement
  • Giving localities authority to regulate firearms
  • Prohibitions against recklessly allowing children to play with guns
  • Removing firearms from domestic-violence abusers and others subject to protective orders

All of these bills had gone through my Public Safety Committee the week before. In one week, the Virginia House of Delegates has done more to stop gun violence than it had done in the prior three decades. But the fight is not yet complete. The Senate must pass these bills, too, before heading to the Governor for his signatureSo stay alert!


Status of My Bills

Seventeen of my bills passed either the House, Committee, or Subcommittee this week. It is certainly far easier to pass progressive legislation with a Democratic majority!

Five of my Bills Passed the House This Week

Five of my bills passed the House this week, every one of them with broad bipartisan support. You can read more about these bills and watch the hearings on them by looking at last week's newsletter, as I describe how they went through subcommittee.

1. Requiring Courts to Consider Domestic Violence in Custody Cases 

HB861, ensuring that courts take into consideration a parent's history of domestic violence and child abuse when making child custody determinations, passed out of the House this week unanimously. Those who know my work and my family’s story know how important it is to me to protect families and children from domestic violence. Since 2016, I have worked with domestic violence advocates and the Family Law Coalition to build consensus for this bill, and it was great to see that consensus reflected in the bill’s passage. 

You can watch the subcommittee hearing on the bill here.

2. Predatory Lending Reform

HB184, which bans predatory lending at very high interest rates, was incorporated into HB789, Delegate Lamont Bagby's comprehensive Fairness in Lending Act. This passed the House on Friday by a vote of 65-33This is a fight I began in 2018. If the bill passes the Senate and becomes law, it will greatly reduce the number of loan sharks that prey on vulnerable people at ridiculously high interest rates designed to force them into bankruptcy.

You can watch the subcommittee hearing on the bill here.

3. Increasing Funding for Law Libraries 

HB183 passed out of the House 64-35. HB 183 allows localities funding to expand their law libraries. This long-held priority for the City of Alexandria would bring greater access to justice to the entire community, and, in particular, people who can't afford legal representation. I've been fighting for this since 2017. 

You can watch the subcommittee hearing on the bill here.

4. Allowing Secular Virginians to Perform Marriage Ceremonies

The House also passed HB863 unanimously. HB863 makes it much easier for people who are not ordained ministers to become wedding officiants. I have officiated at three weddings myself in Virginia, and the process is needlessly burdensome, as it involves filing a court action, paying a $500 bond, obtaining notarized signatures, four trips to the court, etc.

I believe everyone has a First Amendment right to perform wedding ceremonies, and current law discriminates on the basis of religion. This bill culminates an effort I began in 2016 to equalize the playing field. The wedding couple should decide the person who married them and should not be penalized for choosing a good friend or family member over a member of the clergy. 

You can watch the subcommittee hearing on the bill here.

5. Virginia's First Law on Police Body Cameras

HB246 passed the House on Thursday with bipartisan support, 62-38. This bill sets up the first Virginia law on police body-worn cameras and requires localities to adopt written guidelines with public comment prior to implementation so that body-camera use is driven by a consistent policy and not on an ad hoc basis.

Localities and police have to have some level of accountability pertaining to how they use body worn cameras. Body-worn cameras protect police and citizens alike by helping to protect the truth. I first began this effort in 2016 and continued every single year until the bill passed the House this year. 

You can watch the subcommittee hearing on the bill here.

What all these five bills have in common is they, like many of my bills this year, are the continuations of my efforts that did not succeed in the past when the House of Delegates was under Republican control. Measures that were tough to pass in the past have suddenly become quite easy. What a difference an election makes!


Another Eight of my Bills Passed Committee and are Headed to the House Floor

6. The Most Comprehensive Rainbow (LGBT) Civil Rights Legislation in Virginia History

HB1049 passed out of a General Laws full committee on Tuesday with a bipartisan majority of 16-6

HB1049 - which I have introduced every year I have served in the General Assembly - is the most comprehensive LGBT-non-discrimination bill ever introduced in Virginia history. The bill adds "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to more than 70 places in the code. Wherever other discrimination is prohibited in Virginia, discrimination against rainbow Virginians will be prohibited as well. 

Housing, employment, public accommodations, banking, insurance, apprenticeships, contracts, credit, and much, much more is all included in this 39-page bill.

You can watch the subcommittee hearing on the bill here.

7. Decriminalizing People with HIV and other non-transmittable Sexually-Transmitted Diseases

HB864 decriminalizes HIV-positive people and others who have had sexually transmitted diseases by aligning Virginia's infected sexual battery law with the most up-to-date science and public health practices. We had a long debate in the Criminal Law subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee about how to protect both those who are at risk of getting disease and folks with no-longer-transmittable diseases. No longer will it be a criminal offense to have sex when you no longer pose a threat to others.


Standing with Andrew Torre from the Alexandria Commission on HIV/AIDS 
and Deirdre Johnson, of Ending the Criminalization of HIV 
and Over-incarceration in Virginia (ECHO VA) Coalition 
around 10pm, immediately after the bill passed subcommittee.

The bill passed out of subcommittee 5-3 and then passed out of the full Courts of Justice Committee by a vote of 10-6. You can watch my subcommittee presentation below. This was a bill I did not dare even introduce under Republican rule. I was pleased to see it get to the House Floor.


Click the image to watch the hearing.

8. Disentangling Local Police from Immigration Enforcement

My HB244, which was incorporated into Delegate Alfonso Lopez's HB1150, passed out of Courts of Justice, 13-6. HB244 repeals a state law requiring local law enforcement to do federal immigration work, which puts at risk our immigrant communities and wastes local taxpayer dollars. This was the first time I introduced this measure as well, as I knew it would have no chance under the prior Republican majority.

Our local law enforcement should focus on preventing crime, and they can hardly do that if crime victims and witnesses are afraid to speak up, lest they be deported. The bill does not prohibit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, but it leaves the decision where it belongs: with local authorities.

9. Strengthening the Virginia Human Rights Act

HB1050, my bill to "add teeth" to the Virginia Human Rights Act, was incorporated into Delegate Mark Sickles' HB1663, which passed out of General Laws by a vote of 16 to 6, and out of Appropriations, 14-8. I described the bill at length last week.

You can watch the subcommittee hearing on the bill here.

10. Collective Bargaining for Public Employees

HB327, my bill to allow public sector employees to form unions and collectively bargain, was incorporated into Delegate Elizabeth Guzman's HB582 and passed out of Labor & Commerce 12-9 and out of Appropriations, 12-8.

Every worker in Virginia should be allowed to join a union and fight for better wages and working conditions. My bill repeals a long-standing unjust prohibition on worker rights. Guzman's bill goes even further and sets up a Virginia Public Employee Relations Board, much like the National Labor Relations Board, to arbitrate employer/worker disputes.

11. Prohibiting Salary History Questions for Job Applicants

HB326, my bill to ban employers from asking for the salary history of job applicants (which exacerbates wage gaps and income inequality), was incorporated into Delegate Joshua Cole's HB416, which passed out of the Labor and Commerce Committee, 14-6. 

When my fellow delegates have similar ideas to mine, I'm more than happy to share the credit. It doesn't matter whose bill becomes law. What matters for Virginians is that they are no longer penalized by new employers relying on their past salary history, which too frequently prevents workers from achieving the large increases in their salary they often deserve when they get a new and better job.

12. Taking "Race" Out of Marriage

HB180, which removes race from being required on a Virginia marriage license or divorce record, passed unanimously out of a Health, Welfare, and Institutions committee by a vote of 22-0. You may recall there was a story on this last year.

You can watch the subcommittee hearing on the bill here.

13. Repealing the Crime of Fornication

HB245 repeals the crime of fornication. Did you know it was illegal in Virginia for two unmarried adults to have consensual sex?  But it's legal for two married people who are married to other people to have sex (since adultery is no longer crime)? This ridiculous law should no longer be on our books.

My bill passed the criminal law subcommittee by a vote of 7 to 1, with one lone Republican holding out to keep fornication illegal.

By the time the bill reached the full Courts of Justice committee, even that Republican had caved in to reality, and the bill passed unanimously, 18 to 0. 


Click the image to watch the first part of the hearing.


Click the image to watch the second part of the hearing.


Four more bills passed subcommittee but must pass committee before going to the House Floor

14. Paid Family Medical Leave

HB328, my bill to provide Virginian workers with Paid Family and Medical Leave, passed out of a Labor and Commerce subcommittee this 5-3 on Tuesday and then the full committee on Thursday by a vote of 12-9. It has been referred to the Appropriations Committee. If it passes the Appropriations Committee, it will then be voted on by the entire House.

The bill would provide up to 60 days of paid family medical leave to workers eligible under the (unpaid) Federal Family Medical Leave Act at 2/3 their ordinary wages. It would be financed by a 0.2% employer/employee match (For a worker earning $50,000, that's only $100 a year). The USA is the only nation on the planet, apart from a very few small island nations that does not provide at least paid maternity leave.

I have introduced this measure repeatedly since 1016, when I believe I may have been the first Virginia legislator to draft legislation to implement it. As a large and important program, it may still face rough going in the Appropriations Committee.

You can watch the subcommittee hearing on the bill by clicking the image or here. It follows a more extensive presentation on a similar but more generous (and more expensive) measure proposed by Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, a measure I also support. Click here to watch Delegate Carroll Foy's presentation of her paid leave bill.

15. Protecting Animals from Inhumane Tethering

HB1552 outlaws inhumane treatment of pets by strengthening protections around how folks can tether their animals. The bill was suggested to me by constituents, including Boyd Walker who attended the hearing and testified for it.

The bill passed out of an Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources subcommittee on Thursday, 5-3 and should go to full committee next week.

I regret that this is the one subcommittee hearing we were unable to film. Hopefully, my Transparency Act will pass this session, and we will never have to worry about an unrecorded subcommittee hearing ever again.

16. Allowing Local Officials to Attend Meetings Electronically When Necessary

My HB321, which will make it easier for local officials to attend meetings electronically when a family member is ill, passed out of a Communications, Technology and Innovation subcommittee by a vote of 9-1. This was suggested to me by Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker. If you watch the hearing, you can hear her testimony on the bill.


Click the image to watch the hearing.

17. Reducing Surprise Bills by Out-of-Network Hospital Providers

HB189 would ban "balance billing," the practice by which hospitals after surgery can bill you for the balance of your surgical procedure, even when rendered by an out-of-network provider you had no reason to suspect would be taking care of you. While you're under anesthesia and cannot object, a hospital can bring in a doctor or nurse that is outside your health care plan, and when you wake up and see the bill, it might just put you back in shock!

My bill would end this practice. Two other delegates, Luke Torian (HB1251) and Mark Sickles (HB901), introduced similar bills. So mine was incorporated into theirs. Both their bills passed a Labor & Commerce subcommittee by a unanimous vote and were sent on to the Appropriations Committee.


 Five Bills Continued to Next Year

Five of my bills, which require more study, were continued to next year.

The first two of them are "big bills," which require more study. 

18. Health Care Transparency

HB188 would improve healthcare transparency by requiring doctors and hospitals to divulge the costs of procedures long before those procedures take place. My goal is to allow people undergoing medical procedures to know the cost to them of the procedure before they undergo it, rather than afterward, when it can bankrupt them. An easy idea to explain but a bit difficult to execute, as it requires the cooperation not only of hospitals and doctors but also insurance companies and others who profit off hidden prices and monopoly power. I will work on this next year in a good-faith attempt to reach a compromise that is also technically possible using current technology. Then I'll bring it back next year.

19. Local Broadband

Similarly, HB1052 would remove onerous restrictions on localities creating their own broadband networks. This is particularly important to my Alexandria constituents who, like me, have only one realistic choice for their internet. A local option would break this monopoly. But as with health care, this is a very complicated problem to solve, and I will work with stakeholders over the course of 2020 to arrive at a fair and equitable solution for 2021.

20. Tax Firearms for Mental Health

HB960 would increase the sales tax on purchases of firearms and ammunition by a few percentage points, with collected funds going to student mental health and safety. It was continued to next year by a Finance subcommittee. As the bill is firearms-related but not one of the Governor's eight main gun bills, the subcommittee felt it should take a second priority to those bills.

21 and 22. Expungement/Sealing of Crimes that are No Longer Crimes & One Non-Violent Drug Crime

Two more bills, allowing the expungement or sealing of past crimes so that ex-offenders could more freely and productively rejoin society, were sent to the Crime Commission to be studied. HB320 would have allowed people to seal a crime from their record if it is no longer a crime. This would be very useful, for example, to people previously convicted of marijuana possession after my HB301 or a similar measure decriminalizing marijuana became law. HB865 would have allowed folks who have served their time to seal a non-violent drug possession offense. 

These bills were one of several dozen expungement/sealing bills proffered by a large number of my fellow Democrats. It was thought, given the extraordinary number and variance of the bills offered, to send them all to the Crime Commission to study over the course of 2020 to work out the interaction among them and determine the best procedures and policies for the future. I'm confident we will address this issue more fully in 2021.


Not-Yet-Successes

While I am pleased about the twenty-two bills mentioned above, I cannot claim a perfect record. I am not getting everything I want this session.

I had five disappointments this week, and I will have to come back for some of these bills next year. I started to give you a complete picture in this email, but I literally ran out of space as this email client simply cannot handle all the news I wanted to share with you.

So for now, you've just seen the good news. We'll get to the "not-yet successes" of last week in a subsequent email in a couple of days.


If you are one of the intrepid folks who actually read every word of this newsletter, please let me know what you think. We work very hard on these newsletters. Did you play any of the videos?  Check out any of the news in the columns on the left? Please let me know if this extensive effort -- which takes my staff and me about 6-8 hours each -- is worthwhile to you.


SIX BILLS COMING UP TODAY!

We will hear six more of my bills today, Monday, February 3. All but HB321 will be heard in the late afternoon. There is still time to come to Richmond to testifyIf you want to testify, please email my Chief of Staff Jacob Weinberg immediately or call him at 803-698-1045.

In the morning:

HB321 will make it easier for local elected officials to attend meetings electronically when a family member is seriously ill.

In the late afternoon:

HB894 requires all incoming public school teachers to have training in best practices for conflict prevention and de-escalation. This will help schools avoid restraint and seclusion wherever possible when working with disruptive students. Thank you to Alexandria School Board member Meagan Alderton and advocate for people with autism Alex Sprague for helping me to formulate this proposal.

HB247 helps pedestrians by increasing penalties for drivers who seriously injure pedestrians while disobeying traffic laws. This was brought to me by Alexandria Families for Safe Streets.

HB319 ends "prison gerrymandering" by counting prisoner populations based on where the people in prison are from, not based on where they have been involuntarily sent.

HB1053 codifies an existing Executive Order that ensures every vote in the Commonwealth is backed up by a voter-verifiable paper record

HB181 sets up a Commission to remove and replaces Virginia's Robert E. Lee statue from the US Capitol in Washington.


 Pictures from Session


Meeting with the wonderful public servants of the Arlington Education Association.


Meeting with advocates from the Alexandria's Domestic and Sexual Violence Program.


The proverbial "walk-and-talk" with an advocate is what happens when you have committee, caucus, and a bill to present in another committee, all at the same time.


My Chief of Staff Jacob Weinberg met with constituent activists from the MS Society while I was in committee.


It is always my honor and privilege to serve you.

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