The Dawn of a New Session
A new day dawning on Monday. This was my view of the Potomac
the morning I left my beloved Alexandria to travel to Richmond for seven weeks of session.
So much happens in these short seven weeks that they feel like seven months.
The House of Delegates convenes to begin the 2019 General Assembly Session.
On Wednesday, January 11 at noon sharp, the General Assembly convened. This marks the 400th anniversary of the first representative assembly in the New World. You can see me on the aisle just to the right of Delegate Cheryl Turpin (in bright red), prepared once again to proudly represent the progressive values of Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's Capitol.
That evening, Governor Northam delivered his State of the Commonwealth Address:
A view from the Gallery of a packed chamber during Governor Northam's State of the Commonwealth Address...
but, of course, I had one of the best seats in the House!
The Governor focused on key issues for Virginians including healthcare, education, environmental protection, workforce development, and improved access to parental leave. His message was clear that Virginia's accomplishments over the past year have come from finding common ground and working together to break barriers that improve Virginians lives, instead of engaging in partisan battles that just result in gridlock.
Governor Northam astutely pointed out that for the first time the 400-year history of the Virginia General Assembly, a woman is leading a legislative caucus! Congratulations to my friend Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn! It is an honor to serve alongside her!
Standing with our new Democratic Minority Leader, Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, on the first day of session
To celebrate the 400-year anniversary, our security team looked just as it did during
Virginia's first Session of the House of Delegates (then called the House of Burgesses) in Jamestown in 1619!
After the Address, Governor Northam invited the legislature to a reception at the Executive Mansion.
I'm proud of our strong relationship. The Governor is a good friend to the people of the 45th District.
My 2019 Legislative Agenda
I spent most of this week reviewing the exact legislative text and planning out strategy for the 13 bills and a constitutional amendment I have filed so far. During short sessions (which occur in odd numbered years), delegates are limited to introducing 15 bills, although constitutional amendments and commending resolutions don't count in the limit. Every year, I have far more than 15 bills that I would like to introduce. So I have to ensure I pick the very best! Many of the bills I am introducing this year were inspired by ideas brought to me by constituents. It's such a privilege to work to put your opinions, concerns, and priorities into legislation.
The bills I have filed so far this year include:
1. Banning Discrimination:
On the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This comprehensive legislation would ban discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, banking, insurance, apprenticeships, and every other place I could find in the Code of Virginia. (HB2421); and
On the basis of gender at dry cleaners and laundries. This bill would ensure the cost of cleaning women's clothes would not cost more than the cost of cleaning men's clothes (or vice versa), unless a particular articles of clothing legitimately costs more for the establishment to clean. (HB2423)
2. Increasing Transparency in Health Care
Requiring health-care facilities to monitor and report information regarding infections received in health-care settings to the State Department of Health (HB2425);
Requiring pharmacies and physicians to disclose the cost of a medication prior to dispensing it. It is my hope that this knowledge will increase competition and allow consumers to make the most price-conscious choice (HB2426); and
Requiring health-care providers to disclose the cost of nonemergency medical services prior to performing those services. Again, this is to allow consumers to save money and avoid unwelcome surprises (such as when their insurance doesn't cover a service they thought it did) (HB2427)
3. Increasing Transparency in Criminal Justice
Mandating the adoption and establishment of written policies for the operation of body-worn camera systems by police departments (HB2424)
4. Protecting Vulnerable People (and Animals)
Allowing courts to consider domestic violence and child abuse in determining the best interests of children in custody disputes. This is a bill that I have introduced every Session that I have served in the House (HB2650 — Tyler's Law);
Allowing Alzheimer's and other mentally incapacitated people to have visits from family members and other loved ones, unless good cause is shown to prevent these visits. This bill would prevent abusive guardians from withholding family contact for financial gain. (HB2430); and
Making it a felony to use cruelty toward animals to threaten, intimidate, or terrorize a household or family member (HB2642)
5. Improving Access to Protective Orders
Permitting courts to utilize two-way electronic video and audio communication system that would enable victims to appear before the court if they are unable to be physically present in the courtroom (e.g., if they are hospitalized) (HB2428);
Allowing courts to consolidate protective-order hearings with a defendant's related criminal offense (HB2429); and
Allowing court victims-services to provide services to those seeking a protective order and other victims of domestic violence and similar misdemeanor crimes (will be introduced next week)
6. Strengthening Our Democracy
Changing our national system of electing the President of the United States from the Electoral College to the National Popular Vote. This bill would enter Virginia into an interstate compact known as the Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote. If it succeeds, we will only need states comprising 85 more electoral votes to end this scourge on American democracy forever (HB2422); and
Introducing a constitutional amendment to permit the Governor of Virginia to be re-elected and to serve two consecutive terms. Virginia is the only one of the 50 states not to allow its Governor to be re-elected. If we like our Governor, why not allow the voters to give him or her a second term? (HJ672)
7. Raising the Minimum Wage
Allowing localities to set their own minimum wage. The cost of living is higher in Alexandria than in Abingdon. Why shouldn't our City Government be allowed to set a higher wage? (HB2631)
8. Increasing Transparency in the General Assembly (Budget Amendment)
I have a budget amendment to pay for the cost of streaming and archiving subcommittee hearings. You'll recall my efforts as Founder of the Virginia Transparency Caucus now ensure that all votes cast in subcommittee and committee are recorded and that committee proceedings are now streamed and archived. But we still have to complete the process by streaming and archiving subcommittees. You have a right to know everything your legislators do in Richmond! As always, I will film and archive all proceedings on all my bills. So if you have an interest in one of my bills above, you can see film of my efforts shepherding that bill through the legislative process.
I still have one slot available for just one more bill next week.
I was thinking about paid family medical leave or marijuana decriminalization — bills I have introduced in the past, but I saw my Democratic colleagues introduce these bills, and so I will be the chief co-patron of these bills instead. I also thought of gun-violence legislation, like universal background checks and bans on perpetrators of domestic-violence owning guns — which I've done in the past, but my colleagues introduced these too. No need for duplicate bills! And my proposal to ban bump stocks is being accomplished at the federal-government level. And I always support no-excuse voting but again, a colleague has taken this up, so I will join her efforts.
So what will the last bill be? Improving elections? Helping non-profits? Criminal-justice reform? Solar energy? Something else? I'll let you know next week.
Just Three Weeks Until Crossover!
We only have THREE WEEKS to shepherd all of my 15 bills, my constitutional amendment, and my budget amendment through the House of Delegates. During that time, the Virginia House of Delegates will consider more than 1000 bills, plus proposals for constitutional amendments, budget amendments, and other resolutions. By February 1, every single bill must pass the committees of the House of Delegates or die. Then on Monday and Tuesday, February 4 or 5, we will have a "votearama" where we will consider hundreds of pieces of legislation. By midnight, February 5, every bill that does not pass the House of Delegates dies. We then consider the budget and bills that passed the Senate from February 6 to February 23.
So the next three weeks will be a very busy time! Please understand if we are a bit slow responding to your emails or if I'm out of the office when you call or visit. I do read every single email and listen to every phone message sent to me prior to casting a vote on a bill. So if you have an opinion, let me know it. Your voice will be heard, even if it takes us some time to respond to you. (While I personally respond to every email sent to me during session, I often don't get to the very last one until late Spring.) If you want me to vote a certain way this year, tell me! On the left-hand column of this email, you can find the contact information for my Richmond office. Do not hesitate to reach out and make your voice heard.
You can also personally tell me your views on pending legislation next Sunday, January 20, at my regular Mark's Monthly Meetup held at Los Tios Restaurant in Del Ray. It will be at a special time (4:30 - 6:30 pm) to allow folks to also attend the Amazon town hall occurring that same afternoon. At the Monthly Meetup, I will also let you know the progress of the individual parts of my 2019 Legislative Agenda.
The crowd at Mark's Monthly Meetup isn't always this large. Sometimes it's only 20-30 people.
Whether the group is large or small, I always enjoy hearing from my constituents.
But you don't have to attend Mark's Monthly Meetup to know what's happening in Richmond. Every Sunday starting today and concluding February 24, I will let you know all the many sundry things — the good, the bad, and the ugly — that happened during the week. Just check your email.
I'm under no illusions about how challenging it will be to pass some of these bills in our Republican-led General Assembly, but that will not stop me from making the case and standing up for our shared values. And of course, as the Founder of the Virginia Transparency Caucus, I have pledged to record every discussion and vote of every bill that I present on the floor or in a committee or subcommittee. I will post that video in the weekly newsletter, and on my Facebook and YouTube pages.
Pressing for Fair Labor Practices
On Thursday I sent a letter to Andrea Fava, the Director of Public Policy for Amazon, urging her to ensure Amazon's construction and renovation projects are performed under a Project Labor Agreement ("PLA"), just as Amazon's headquarters in Seattle and New York are.
A PLA is a custom agreement that prescribes wage scales, benefits, training, safety, hiring, and working conditions. Any contractors—union or nonunion—can bid on the work once a PLA is signed, but the PLA ensures that high-quality work is accomplished safely, legally, on time, and on budget.
Through a PLA, Amazon could help provide a path to the middle class for non-college-bound residents in Arlington and Alexandria, allowing the region's residents—particularly people with low incomes, minorities, and immigrants—to have access to building-trade apprenticeships. These apprenticeships can lead to family-supporting jobs with good wages, health care, and retirement security. Building-trade apprenticeships are tuition-free training programs that include both classroom and on-the-job training, allowing apprentices to "earn while they learn."
The letter is posted below in its entirety:
As I wrote you in my newsletter on Friday, Pentagon, Pentagon City, and Crystal City Metro stations are closed this weekend to improve lighting. You can get to these stations by Metro shuttle bus.
On the weekends of January 26-27 and March 2-3, stations south of Braddock Road (King Street, Eisenhower, Huntington, Van Dorn, and Franconia-Springfield) will be closed but accessible by Metro shuttle bus in preparation for the big shutdown of all these stations (plus Braddock Road) over the summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
I have made clear to Metro that I want to be informed of these shutdowns sooner, and I was promised I would be. I've also been working with Metro to improve signage, particularly at National Airport where I'm working with MWAA (the airport authorities) to have airport shuttles also stop, upon request, at Metro bus shuttle stops.
I know all this is painful, and I'm sorry. But here's the silver lining: after this summer -- after this shutdown is done on Labor Day (and a bit of single tracking at Van Dorn which may briefly follow Labor Day), we should have no major Yellow or Blue line shutdowns in Northern Virginia for at least three years.
Fighting for Furloughed Federal Workers!
This week I joined with 13 other Delegates to ask that Virginian drivers who are forced to work without pay during the current federal furlough not be subject to tolls. Virginia workers—our neighbors and many of my constituents—are being financially crippled by the federal shutdown, and we have to find ways to help them during this time of need.
Protecting the Hungry
I've also reached out to the Virginia Commissioner who runs the Department of Social Services to make sure that folks on SNAP don't starve during the Federal shutdown. I've been promoting strategies to help make sure Virginia steps in when the Federal Government does not.
Had a good strategy session on Friday with Doris Crouse-Mays,
President of the Virginia AFL-CIO, and Roxy Mejia, Political Director, IUPAT District Council 51.
New Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson taking the oath of office.
City council members taking their oath of office. Four of the six are new.
(L - R): Councilmembers Canek Aguirre, John Chapman, and Del Pepper;
Mayor Justin Wilson; Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker;
and Councilmembers Amy Jackson and Mo Seifeldin.
Outgoing Mayor Allison Silberberg addresses Alexandria
And in Richmond...
Incoming Democratic Leader Delegate Filler-Corn presents Delegate David Toscano
with an award for his seven years of service as the House Democratic Leader.
On the first day of session, Governor Northam addressed the House Democratic Caucus.
Standing behind him is our new Democratic Leader, Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn.
Delegate Filler-Corn is the first woman ever to lead a party caucus
in the 400-year history of the Virginia General Assembly.
On Friday morning, my friend former-Delegate/now-Senator Jennifer Boysko addressed the House for the final time. On Tuesday evening she won her special election race in the 33rd Senate District, and will be moving to the other side of the Capitol. We hate to see her go, but we know the Senate will be better with her in it.
A standing ovation for Jennifer Boysko in the House of Delegates on her last day as Delegate.
An hour later, she became a Virginia State Senator.
We will miss her!
Anyone who reads this far in a very long newsletter deserves special commendation.Let me know if you have. I always welcome your emails and comments.
Upcoming Events in Northern Virginia
Please Join Me!
(I personally participate in the events in red)
Sunday, January 20
2:00 - 4:00 pm
Amazon HQ2 Town Hall
Charles Houston Recreation Center
901 Wythe St., Alexandria
Sunday, January 20
4:30 pm - 6:30 pm
Mark's Monthly Meetup
Los Tios Restaurant
2615 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria
THE FOLLOWING WEEKEND
Saturday, January 26
10:30 am - 12:00 pm
Town Hall with Senator Adam Ebbin
Location to be Announced
It is always my honor and privilege to serve you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District