Chair, Public Safety
Courts of Justice
Privileges & Elections
Health, Welfare, & Institutions
MARK IN THE NEWS
Closing All the Loopholes
(on Predatory Lending)
State assault weapons ban on horizon in House
The Northern Virginia Daily
ERA, guns, marriage: What you missed this week in the General Assembly
The Commonwealth Times
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Richmond, VA 23219
What a difference a year makes. What a difference elections make.
My Most Important Votes in Committee
This week, the House’s Democratic majority made dramatic progress. As I now sit on four critical House committees that decide crucial issues, I was able to proudly vote there in favor of bills I copatroned on three of the most important priorities you sent us to Richmond to accomplish:
Reduce Gun Violence
(seven bills, including background checks and red flag laws)
- Protect Reproductive Freedom
- Remove Restrictions on the Right to Vote
Furthermore, eight of my bills have already been passed by a House subcommittee or full committee. In one week, I've gotten more bills through subcommittee than I have in any single year I served under Republican control. These include:
Bills to Protect Civil Rights
- The most comprehensive Rainbow (LGBT) civil rights bill ever proposed in Virginia History, adding non-discrimination provisions for sexual orientation and gender identity in 75 places in the Virginia Code (HB1049).
- A bill to increase civil-rights enforcement remedies in employment and public accommodations (HB1050).
- A bill removing racial designations for marriage and divorce (HB180).
- A bill to allow couples getting married to easily choose the wedding officiant of their choice; removing barriers to non-religious weddings (HB863).
& Bills to Protect the Vulnerable
- A bill to protect children in custody disputes from parents who have engaged in domestic violence or child abuse (HB861).
- A bill to regulate predatory lending (HB184 incorporated into HB789).
- A bill to make it easier for localities to fund law libraries, so that people without lawyers can still research and know their rights under the law (HB183).
- A bill setting up Virginia's first legal paradigm for police body-cameras (HB246).
All this...and Transparency Too!
This week, for the first time in Virginia history and with the help of the new Speaker, my efforts led to the first time Virginia legislative subcommittees have ever been required to be streamed and archived for the public, creating the single most transparent legislative session in Virginia history!
All in one week!
And yes, I'm tired. Most of my days began at or before 7 am and concluded after midnight. (I will drive back to Richmond tonight after I finish this newsletter.)
But I'm exhilarated, too, and that helps to mitigate the exhaustion.
This kind of rapid progress simply was not possible when the House was under Republican control.
Elections matter. This week showed why.
Thank you for making what follows possible.
Progressive Bills Advance to House Floor
Bills to Reduce Gun Violence
Of all the issues constituents write me about, the single most important task you have asked me to accomplish is to pass common-sense firearms restrictions to reduce gun violence and death. Throughout the Commonwealth, more Virginians said they cared about new gun laws (whether for them or in opposition to them) than any other single issue in the 2019 elections.
Last July, following the Virginia Beach Massacre, the Governor of Virginia called the Virginia General Assembly into special session to address the growing epidemic of gun violence. He proposed eight bills. The then-Republican majority not only killed the proposed firearms legislation. They refused to even let us debate the matter. And then they quickly adjourned the session. (I wrote about this in my newsletter at length and again and again and again.)
We heard you. You came out in record numbers to support these laws. And now, even in the face of violent threats and intimidation, we have already acted on seven of the Governor's eight gun bills. I proudly copatroned and voted for every single one of these seven bills in the Public Safety Committee.
What are the seven gun violence prevention bills that I copatroned and voted for in Committee that will go to the House Floor this coming week?
- Universal background checks - a bill I've introduced in the past. Everyone should undergo a background check before purchasing a gun. This would erase the exception in Virginia law Republicans formerly insisted on so that sales outside of gun stores could be legally made to criminals, gang members, or domestic abusers in dark alleys between strangers meeting online, with no questions asked.
- Gun violence protective orders - to allow law enforcement and courts, after extensive due process, to stop incipient violence and prevent impending suicides.
- Allowing localities to enact firearms ordinances that are stricter than state law, including regulating firearms in municipal buildings, libraries and at permitted events. No more will jerks with assault weapons be able to legally terrorize and shut down the Old Town Farmers Market.
- One gun a month reinstatement, which dramatically restricts illegal gun trafficking
- Protections for children - raising the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony for anyone who recklessly leaves a loaded gun in a place that might endanger the life of a child
Requirement to report lost or stolen guns to the police - which any responsible gun owners should do anyway, to prevent gun trafficking and criminal access to firearms.
and one that particularly resonates with me:
- A bill to ban weapons from those subject to a permanent protective order, such as perpetrators of domestic violence. While the gun owner will have due process, the bill is absolutely necessary. The danger to abuse victims is all too real.
There is only one of the Governor's eight bills the Public Safety Committee has not yet voted on, and it's mine: HB961, to ban sales and transfers of assault weapons, the weapon of choice among today's mass murderers.
This bill was always considered the most controversial of the eight bills. It has caused me to receive nastiness from all over the nation as organized gun enthusiasts have encouraged thousands to drown out my constituents on my Facebook page. (I encourage you to engage them there. Don't let these non-Virginians and other non-constituents intimidate you into not exercising your First Amendment Rights!).
While the courts have consistently upheld the bills' constitutionality in nine states and DC and in every federal appellate court that has considered the question, this legislation (and I) have inaccurately been accused of violating the Second Amendment. The critics are wrong. They may disagree with the US Supreme Court's rulings. That's fair. I often criticize their rulings myself. But the complaint they have is with the courts. Not with me. I firmly believe the Second Amendment is not a suicide pact. Like every other part of the Bill of Rights, it has to be applied reasonably. The right to bear arms does not include a toddler with a machine gun. The courts have found states have a right to restrict assault weapons. We may disagree on where the limits should be, but no constitutional right is absolute.
I understand why other Democrats declined to carry the bill, but I have never run from a political fight. It may be hard to draw a line between legitimate uses for guns (hunting, self-defense, sport shooting) and illegitimate uses (violence, suicide, criminal activity, intimidation), but that does not mean the line drawing is impossible.
I'm committed to continuing work on the bill, amending it to address legitimate criticisms, and ultimately putting it forward to reduce the mass murders that, with increasing frequency, plague Virginia and the nation. Stay tuned.
Bills to Protect Reproductive Freedom
On Wednesday, I voted for a bill I copatroned, the Reproductive Health Protection Act (HB980). It was reported out of the Courts of Justice Committee on a party-line vote. I am proud to the support the most important bill this session that removes political interference between a woman and her medical provider.
The Reproductive Health Protection Act would abolish the worst restrictions on women’s reproductive healthcare options in Virginia that have been legislatively mandated, including, among other things:
- Forced, medically unnecessary ultrasounds;
- A 24-hour mandatory delay, which too-often stretches to far longer;
- State-required biased counseling to discourage abortions;
- Laws blocking qualified Advanced Practice Clinicians from providing abortion early in pregnancy, despite their rigorous post-graduate training and extensive clinical experience.
- Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers that unfairly single out outpatient abortion facilities -- unlike other similar medical facilities -- by requiring they obey the expensive and unnecessary regulations that full-service hospitals are required to undergo.
In the Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee, I also voted for another bill I copatroned to make clear that birth control, by definition, is not abortion. This, too, passed on a party-line vote. Barring any unexpected disruption, the full House of Delegate should vote on this legislation early next week.
Protecting the Right to Vote
On Friday, I voted for and helped pass out of the Privileges and Elections Committee another bill I copatroned, HB1, Majority Leader and fellow Alexandrian Delegate Charniele Herring's bill to allow Virginians to vote absentee - no-excuses necessary - in-person for up to 45 days before an election. People shouldn't have to provide a reason for voting early/absentee.
As an example of how busy we are during session, I was actually late to that Privileges and Elections Committee hearing because I was helping to make sure that the Governor's seven gun bills passed committee. But I voted for it after I arrived at the hearing.
Civil Rights Bills
Eight of my bills passed out of subcommittee last week.
Two of them passed out of full committee as well.
1. The Most Comprehensive Rainbow (LGBT) Civil Rights Legislation in Virginia History
My HB1049 passed out of a General Laws subcommittee on Thursday.
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 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.
Every year since I was first elected, I’ve put forward this legislation only to see it killed by the then-majority Republican party.
It took a Democratic majority to make it happen. The bill passed 7 to 1 out of subcommittee. On to full committee.
2. A Bill to Bolster Non-Discrimination Law
My HB1050, which would bolster our current non-discrimination protections in employment and public accommodations, was incorporated into Delegate Mark Sickles' HB1663. I strongly support HB1663, which dramatically improves the ability of people to challenge public-accommodation discrimination. It also strongly improves remedies for employees who've been discriminated against while working for medium or large businesses. I helped craft HB1663, which covers about 90% of what my HB1050 would have covered.
My original bill, HB1050, would have gone even further, covering all Virginia employees -- not just those who work for medium and large businesses -- and independent contractors as well. It also would have given greater authority to the Attorney General of Virginia to obtain evidence from employers accused of discrimination.
Although my original legislation was considered a bit too progressive for equality groups to support this year, I intend to come back in the future after we pass HB1663 (which, to be fair, consists of most of HB1050) until we cover every worker in Virginia from employment discrimination. HB1663 will take us a massive step forward. But it's effects are not complete. I will keep the effort going until no one is left behind.
I explain the differences between HB1663 and HB1050 in the video linked below. HB1663, incorporating my HB1050, passed out of subcommittee on a 5 to 1 vote.
3. Taking "Race" Out of Marriage
My HB180 passed unanimously out of a Health, Welfare, and Institutions subcommittee on Tuesday. HB180 removes race from being required on a Virginia marriage license or divorce record. You may recall there was a story on this last year.
4. Reducing Other Marriage Barriers
My HB863 passed out of a Courts of Justice subcommittee on Wednesday. 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. Thank you to Rick Clore, a Baptist Pastor from Orange, Virginia, who testified in support of this bill.
Now, if you want your Uncle Joe or your best friend Sue from out of state to officiate at your wedding, they can do so. Just designate them on the marriage license, and that's it. All the former red tape will go away. This is one of the first bills I filed in 2016 at the suggestion of one of my original primary opponents, Craig Fifer. Thanks for the suggestion, Craig! Republicans killed the bill in 2016. This year, it passed subcommittee unanimously.
Bills to Protect the Vulnerable
5. Requiring Courts to Consider Domestic Violence in Custody Cases
This bill is especially close to my heart.
My HB861 will ensure that any history of domestic violence and child abuse is taken into consideration when determining child custody. Those who know my work and my family’s story know how important it is to me to protect families and children from domestic abuse. I worked very closely 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 unanimous passage out of the Courts of Justice Civil subcommittee unanimously on Wednesday.
I had to wipe back a few tears as the votes were tallied.
6. Taking Action Against Predatory Lending
My HB184, which bans predatory lending at very high interest rates, was incorporated into HB789, Delegate Lamont Bagby's more comprehensive Fairness in Lending Act, which passed out of the Labor and Commerce Committee by a 14-8 vote and is headed to the House floor.
At the committee's vote on incorporation, which I supported, I shared why I introduced the measure and support the Fairness in Lending Act. My presentation is below.
7. Access to Justice Requires Access to Law Libraries
HB183 passed out of a General Laws subcommittee on Tuesday by a vote of 7 to 1. 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, and, in particular, people who can't afford legal representation.
The bill then passed out of the full General Laws committee on Thursday by a vote of 17 to 4. It will likely be heard by the full House next week.
8. Setting Up Laws on Police Body Cameras
As chair of the Public Safety Subcommittee, I heard a dozen or so bills Thursday afternoon and directed the discussion so we could comprehensively explore -- and in some cases, amend -- the slew of bills that came before us. I take my position as Chair very seriously and look at the bills in detail prior to their being heard. And I'm proud to say I run a very participatory subcommittee, on which every member takes an active roll.
But when it came to my own bill on police body cameras, I decided it was only fair to pass the gavel to Delegate Patrick Hope, the chair of the Public Safety Committee.
HB246 passed out of the Public Safety Subcommittee by a vote of 5-2 on Thursday and the full committee on Friday morning by a vote of 14-8. 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 cameras are turned off and on pursuant to a written policy and not on an ad hoc basis.
First picture below links to my bill presentation in subcommittee, the second, my presentation in full committee.
My Bill to Repeal State-Funded Discrimination in Adoptions (HB1051)
On Thursday, I presented a ninth bill, HB1051, which would prohibit Virginia from funding 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.
Many people showed up to speak in support of the bill, as you can see in the picture below:
Members of the subcommittee whom I know do not support discrimination expressed concerns about the impact that the bill could have on kids currently in the foster care system. However, repealing "right-to-discriminate" laws actually improves adoption rates by allowing more adopting families access to children in need.
The subcommittee members passed HB1051 by for the week to allow me time gather more evidence than what I shared on Thursday. I believe I will be able to assuage their concerns, but if you want to express support for this legislation, please contact your delegate or senator.
Creating the Most Transparent Legislature in Virginia History
During Wednesday's floor session, I celebrated an achievement I'd be working on since my second day in office, when I formed the bipartisan, bicameral Virginia Transparency Caucus in January 2016 to open up the legislature's committee and subcommittee hearings to public scrutiny.
In 2020, for the first time in history, some of Virginia’s subcommittee meetings will be streamed and archived online. Never before has the work of the Virginia General Assembly been so transparent.
Click the video to watch my floor speech,
celebrating the transparency my efforts had brought
to the Virginia General Assembly.
This was a multi-year difficult effort. As I detail in the speech I gave above, when I came to the Virginia Legislature, committee and subcommittee meetings weren't streamed or archived, floor sessions weren't archived, and even subcommittee votes to kill bills went unrecorded. If you wanted to know what was happening in Richmond, you had to physically make the journey to Virginia's capital, often on less than 24 hours' notice.
The bipartisan, bicameral efforts I led grew from a majority in each house the first year to a 2/3 majority in each house last February. And transparency expanded to include archiving floor proceedings, streaming and archiving committees, and required public votes in subcommittees.
This year, we went one step further. At the direction of the Speaker, the House Clerk’s Office is now streaming and archiving online every subcommittee that meets in any room already equipped with the necessary technology. That was the most we could achieve in the short time we had between the November Elections and the beginning of the new session in January.
The public can watch these subcommittee meetings, along with the committee meetings which we started streaming in 2018, live on the Virginia House of Delegates Committee Streaming portal. Following the conclusion of each meeting, archived video is made available on the same portal. The webcasts have simultaneous closed-captioning for constituents who are deaf or hard of hearing.
To complete the process of opening up the business of the General Assembly to the people of Virginia, I have introduced The Transparency Act, HB182, to require all legislative subcommittee and committee hearings to be streamed and archived online, starting in the 2021 session. If my bill becomes law, this five-year-long project will finally be complete.
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.
If you are one of the few intrepid folks who actually read every word of this newsletter, please let me know what you thought.
Pictures from Session
Meeting with constituents from the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association
Meeting with the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL)
Meeting with a constituent with the VCDL
This constituent supports allowing localities to implement a
Ranked Choice Voting pilot program for their local elections, and so do I.
Senator Ebbin and I hosted a town hall for constituents on Saturday. Thanks to the many constituents who came and thank you to Michael Lee Pope for moderating.
It is always my honor and privilege to serve you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District