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The 2020 legislative session has begun.
Virginia has its first Madame Speaker, my friend Eileen Filler-Corn.
Along with being the first woman to lead the Virginia House of Delegates, she is also the first Jewish person to serve as Speaker in the 401-year history of the chamber.
Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn being sworn in on Wednesday, January 8.
Our current House of Delegates will be in the history books.
Fellow Alexandrian Charniele Herring is now the first woman and first black person to serve as Majority Leader in the House of Delegates.
And Suzette Denslow became the first woman to be appointed Clerk of the House of Delegates.
We are, quite simply, the most diverse House of Delegates in Virginia's history.
Never before has the makeup of the House so reflected Virginia's diversity.
One of the first orders of business was to vote on House rules governing how our chamber will operate.
This may seem like a trivial matter, but as Speaker Filler-Corn put it: “We have updated the language of the House to reflect a Commonwealth that is open and welcoming to everyone. For hundreds of years, the assumption was that male pronouns would cover everyone.” Now female pronouns also include the male, instead of vice versa.
Guns No Longer Welcome in the Capitol
or the General Assembly Building!
One of the first things we Democrats did, after obtaining the majority, is we banned guns in the Capitol and the General Assembly's office building, Pocahontas.
In the Virginia State Senate, in the United States Capitol in Washington, and in the majority of state capitols (even in conservative southern states like Alabama), firearms have been long been banned.
But when Republicans ran the Virginia House of Delegates, they insisted that loaded guns be freely carried by any member of the public with a concealed carry permit, not just in the Capitol and in the hallways outside our offices, but even in the Visitor's Gallery overseeing the House Floor .
Virginia's concealed carry permits may be some of the easiest to obtain in the country. All you have to do is pass a background check and answer a very easy 11-question online multiple-choice test, with questions like this one:
One of the not-so-difficult questions from a Virginia concealed-carry test for non-residents.
And if that question seems too difficult, the test-taker will be provided all the answers to all the questions they get wrong and unlimited chances to try the exact same questions again when they reapply moments later. There is no requirement an applicant ever have handled a gun before, much less show any proficiency or understanding of firearms. No wonder so many people from out of state take the Virginia online test!
The point is that, under our prior rules, virtually anyone could walk in the House Visitor's Gallery with a loaded weapon, in prime position to mow several lawmakers down in cold blood before the police in the gallery could stop them.
We Democrats tried to change these rules but even 49 out of 100 votes in 2018 were insufficient in number to protect our safety. Republicans voted in lockstep to keep us as an easy target. I remember arguing to one of my Republican colleagues in private that the danger was real: I told him he had work to do on the floor, he had to cast votes, and he couldn't be constantly scanning the open Visitors' Gallery behind us and above our heads, to watch every person there and know when someone would suddenly begin shooting us. He responded with gallows humor:
"You know, Mark, they're gonna shoot folks on your side of the aisle first."
Despite my strong belief in transparency, I concede I never wanted to mention in my newsletters this gaping loophole in Capitol Security. That's why I only mentioned it once or twice with little emphasis. I did not want to tip off the kind of person who might actually bring about that horror.
Now that we've passed the new policy, I can state clearly and openly that I was always a bit nervous about the old policy. I've taken a strong stance for keeping dangerous people from having access to dangerous weapons. What if one of those dangerous people used Virginia's lax gun laws to operate a dangerous weapon against me or against one of my colleagues? I have never allowed visitors to bring guns into my personal office, not even constituents. (This upset some of them, but I assured them I had never assaulted a constituent, or anyone else for that matter.)
But until today, I still had to be concerned every time I left my office: in every hallway, in every committee room, in the elevator, in the bathroom, and on the House Floor. Any stranger with an axe to grind might have started the kind of massacre we saw in Virginia Beach. Now I can relax, secure in the knowledge that, just as at the US Capitol and in federal legislative offices in Washington DC, metal detectors will keep all but law enforcement from carrying guns inside the buildings where we work.
The policy applies to members, too. In the last few years, one General Assembly member had a gun discharge in his office, while another forgot his loaded pistol and left it easily accessible to children. Thank God no one was hurt!
A very large number of gun enthusiasts are expected to converge on the Capitol during the 2020 session. Everyone will maintain their First Amendment rights. But no one has the right to threaten us. Capitol Hill is swarming with law enforcement. The police are armed and well trained to keep all of us safe. So if you plan to visit the Capitol, leave your guns at home!
My Committee Appointments
One of the most exciting things about the first week of session is that we learn our committee assignments. I will be serving on four committees this year:
Courts of Justice,
Privileges and Elections,
Health, Welfare & Institutions,
and (the newly-renamed) Public Safety Committee
I will be the Chair for a Subcommittee of the Public Safety Committee.
I am thrilled with my committee assignments. These committees handle legislation addressing some of the biggest issues of our time, issues I have long prioritized: criminal justice reform and protecting vulnerable people, voting rights and fair elections, reducing healthcare costs, and gun violence prevention, to name just a few.
My 46 Bills
plus a Constitutional Amendment...
I've already submitted 44 bills. Below I list every single one of them, plus a couple more bills and constitutional amendment on redistricting reform that I'll be unveiling next week.
Although I haven't checked, I suspect I may this year have introduced more bills than any of my House colleagues. I'm not trying to break any record, but there is a reason: we've been waiting a very long time to be in the majority. And I see a strong chance this year to pass many of the progressive bills I introduced that failed in the past under Republican control.
Many Democratic Delegates have similar ideas, and I can't read everyone's minds. So a few of these bills have been introduced by other Delegates as well, either in the exact same form as mine, or taking slightly different approaches than I have to the same issues. Where appropriate, I will occasionally be rolling my bills into my colleagues' bills. I don't care that much about getting credit for a bill or law; I just want to create good new laws to improve the lives of all Virginians. And if a colleague of mine had the same idea as I did or is willing to take a bill of mine and run with it so that it becomes law, that's a win for all of Virginia.
But even if a colleague of mine pursues one of my bills, I still intend to keep a watch on it as it goes through the process to make sure it's not amended in a way that makes it, in my view, less effective. I want every bill I submit to accomplish as much as it can!
Want to help me pass these bills? Please contact your other elected state representatives and urge them to support them!
If you're interested in sharing a personal story related to a bill, or want to come to Richmond to testify in committee in support of a bill, please contact my Chief of Staff, Jacob Weinberg by clicking the link and he will work with you.
Let me know which of these bills you like the best.
I hope you don't dislike any of them, but if you do, please let me know that as well.
The bills, generally speaking, fit into several broad categories. Feel free to skim the list and focus on what's important to you.
For now, here's what I have introduced so far:
Bringing Transparency to the Legislative Process
HB182 requires public streaming and archiving of all proceedings, whether in committee or subcommittee, to allow easy public scrutiny of what goes on in the General Assembly every day we are in session.
Protecting Virginians from Secret Healthcare Costs
HB188 improves healthcare transparency by requiring doctors and hospitals to divulge the costs of procedures long before those procedures take place.
HB189 prohibits balance billing, surprise overcharges from out-of-network health care providers.
HB1049 is the most comprehensive LGBT-non-discrimination bill ever introduced in Virginia history. Every year I've served in Virginia, I have introduced this bill only to see it killed by Republicans. But this is the year I'm confident it will finally happen. 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.
HB1050 will bolster our current non-discrimination protections in employment and public accommodations. I am pleased to say that I have been working closely with Attorney General Mark Herring on this bill, and it has his full support. No Virginian should have to accept discrimination or less than full equality.
HB1051 prohibits state funds from going to adoption agencies that discriminate against people on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or status as a veteran.
HB863 makes it much easier for people who are not ordained ministers to officiate weddings. I have officiated three weddings myself in Virginia, and the process is needlessly burdensome. I believe everyone has a First Amendment right to perform wedding ceremonies, and current law discriminates on the basis of religion.
Fighting the Vestiges of Jim Crow and the Confederacy
HB180 removes race from being required on a Virginia marriage license.
HB181 sets up a Commission to remove and replaces Virginia's Robert E. Lee statue from the US Capitol in Washington.
Protecting the Right to Vote and Free and Fair Elections
HB 177 enters Virginia into a state compact to allow the National Popular Vote of the People of the United States (rather than the Electoral College) to elect the President of the United States
HB 190 removes Voter ID requirements and allows a voter without ID to sign a statement under penalty of perjury and vote.
HB 895 limits campaign contributions by tying Virginia's campaign contribution limit to the federal limit (currently $2,800 per election cycle, and $5,600 per year). Currently, Virginia allows unlimited contributions. One Illinois billionaire gave half a million dollars to a single Republican delegate running in November 2019.
HB 178 resolves ties in elections by special election rather than the drawing of lots. (See Shelly Simonds in 2017).
HB 179 requires recounts to occur only once. This prevents the unfairness of "discovering" a vote after the recount is completed. (See Shelly Simonds in 2017).
HB 319 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.
HB 1053 codifies an existing Executive Order that ensures every vote in the Commonwealth is backed up by a voter-verifiable paper record.
HB 1054 fights gerrymandering by outlining clear standards and criteria for the drawing of state legislative and congressional districts. The most innovative part of this is the cutting-edge proportional-representation criterion that would mathematically defeat gerrymandering.
HB 1055 creates a Virginia Redistricting Commission identical to the one that would be created by the constitutional amendment we passed last year but not allowing the partisan Virginia Supreme Court to step in if the amendment fails.
- Early next week, I will be introducing another bill establishing an independent nonpartisan redistricting committee, based on OneVirginia2021's proposal last year (SJ274), which I consider far superior to the current proposal. No longer would solely Republican appointees be able to draw all of Virginia's future district lines.
- Next week, I will also be introducing a new constitutional amendment to stop gerrymandering by permanently codifying this independent commission and criteria legislation for 2031 and beyond.
Building a Pro-Worker Economy
HB 328 creates a Paid Family Medical Leave program for Virginia workers so that people can care for loved ones without risking their financial security.
HB 326 bans employers from asking for the salary history of job applicants. People should be paid based on their value to an employer, not based on their salaries from prior jobs. Salary history questions have been reported as a leading cause of the still-existing pay gulf between men and women, and between whites and people of color.
HB 327 allows public sector employees to collectively bargain for better benefits and higher wages.
HB 184 bans predatory lending with very high interest rates.
Criminal Justice Reform
HB 301 decriminalizes marijuana possession. I still support full legalization, taxation, and regulation of marijuana but I will be happy to see us take this important step in the right direction this year.
HB 320 allows people to expunge a crime from their record if it is no longer a crime. This will be very useful, for example, to people previously convicted of marijuana possession after my bill or a similar measure decriminalizing marijuana becomes law.
HB 865 allows people who have served their time to expunge a non-violent drug possession offense. Both of these expungement bills allow ex-offenders to more freely rejoin society productively.
HB 244 repeals state laws that require local police to do the work of federal immigration enforcement.
HB 183 allows localities more 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, including people who can't afford legal representation.
HB 246 sets up the first Virginia law on police body-worn cameras and requires localities to adopt written guidelines with public comment prior to implementation.
HB 245 repeals the crime of fornication. Believe it or not, sex out of wedlock is still a crime on the books in Virginia. While rare, people do still get arrested for this. And they shouldn't.
HB 864 decriminalizes HIV-positive people by aligning Virginia's infected sexual battery law with the most up-to-date public health best practices.
Making the Law Work Better for the Vulnerable
HB 861 will ensure that any history of domestic violence and child abuse is taken into consideration when determining child custody.
HB 862 reforms our guardianship system to minimize forced isolation of people who've been deemed incapable of making their own decisions.
HB 894 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.
HB 919 helps victims of domestic violence by simplifying the process to obtain preliminary protective orders by giving judges discretion to hear civil cases on the same days as a criminal case involving the same parties.
HB 247 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.
HB 329 helps those being evicted by giving them notice in Spanish and English of both their legal rights and existing programs that help them avoid becoming homeless.
- A bill I've introduced but does not yet have a bill number reduces animal cruelty by outlawing tethering (tying up) a pet outdoors for extended periods of time on very hot or very cold days.
Sensible Gun Violence Prevention
HB 961 is an assault weapons ban introduced at the request of Governor Northam. It also bans high-capacity magazines, silencers, and bump stocks. The bill would allow people who currently own assault weapons and want to keep them to register them. The bill is similar to effective measures in nine other states and DC (and a federal law existing from 1994 to 2004), found by the courts to be constitutional.
HB 899 bans non-law enforcement from owning or selling "cop-killer" armor-piercing bullets like those that are Teflon-coated.
HB 900 prohibits a person who has been convicted of domestic violence from possessing a firearm.
HB 450 prohibits people who have been ordered locked up due to severe mental illness from possessing firearms. People experiencing mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of violence. Suicide attempts using guns are the most likely to be fatal.
HB 960 increases the sales tax on purchases of firearms and ammunition by a few percentage points, with collected funds going to student mental health and safety.
Miscellaneous Bills to Help Localities
HB 321 will make it easier for local elected officials to attend meetings electronically when a family member is seriously ill.
And finally, HB 1052 allows localities to create locally-owned municipal broadband services like the very successful program in Chattanooga, which has the fastest internet in the country.
Honoring Kimberly Wilson:
The National Teacher of the Year
from T.C. Williams High School
It was a privilege to introduce TC Williams teacher Kimberly Wilson to the House Chamber on Friday. Ms. Wilson has been teaching at Alexandria Public Schools for 28 years and was recently named the National Teacher of the Year by the Association for Career and Technical Education.
The First Pictures from the 2020 Session
At the press conference where Governor Northam announced his major priorities
for session, including ratifying the ERA, gun violence protection,
protecting our environment, raising the minimum wage,
LGBT non-discrimination, and reforming criminal justice.
My new view of the House Chamber. I'm now senior enough to get a coveted seat
in the back row, where I can see every member in the chamber.
With Moms Demand volunteers in the Capitol.
Governor Northam's State of the Commonwealth address.
ERA advocates, including my friend and constituent PJ Johnson,
showed out in force on the first day of session.
I watched the Rules Committee, proud of my colleagues as they voted
to ban guns from the Capitol and our legislative offices.
Please Join Me on One of the Next Two Weekends
To Ask Me About Everything Happening in Richmond
Sunday, January 19
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Mark's Monthly Meetup
2615 Mt. Vernon Avenue, Del Ray
Saturday, January 25
1:00 pm - 3:30 pm
with Delegate Levine & Senator Ebbin
Mt. Vernon Community School
2601 Commonwealth Avenue, Del Ray
It is always my honor and privilege to serve you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District