Monday, February 1 - HB 1009 (Protecting Children from Abusive Parents)
Tuesday, February 2 - HB 1004 (Allowing Every Registered Voter to Vote)
Friday, February 5 - Virginia Transparency Caucus
Saturday, February 6 - Joint Town Hall with Senator Ebbin
MARK IN THE NEWS:
For important dates during the session, go here.
Joint Town Hall with Senator Adam Ebbin
Next Saturday, February 6th from 2 to 3:30 pm, please join Senator Adam Ebbin and me for a joint Town Hall Meeting at Mount Vernon School (2601 Commonwealth Avenue). We are looking forward to giving you the details on what's happening in Richmond, hearing your concerns, and learning how we can better serve you. (In case of inclement weather, check MarkforDelegate.com for updates.)
General Assembly in Williamsburg
I'm currently writing you from Williamsburg where the General Assembly met this weekend at the old Colonial Capitol. It was humbling to be part of this quadrennial tradition and to sit in the same location where Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and many others unanimously voted for Virginia's independence from Great Britain in 1776. I took a lot of pictures and posted them on Facebook.
The General Assembly meets every four years in the Old Colonial Capitol in Williamsburg, Virginia.
HB 996 (Expungement) and 997 (Marijuana Decriminalization)
After the blizzard, I rushed back down to Richmond Monday morning to present my first bills. I started off with some important criminal justice reform measures. HB 996 would have allowed non-violent drug offenders to have their first offense expunged from their criminal record, so that they would have a better chance to get a job and turn their lives around. HB 997 would have changed the possession of small amounts of marijuana to a civil violation, punishable by a fine, but not by arrest. Although these bills were tabled by the subcommittee, I was encouraged to see several Republicans presenting similar bills. As public opinion continues to shift on this issue, I look forward to leading the fight to bring these much needed changes to Virginia's criminal justice system.
On Tuesday, I presented my bill authorizing counties and cities to raise their minimum wage. With the cost of living in Northern Virginia running so high, this measure is absolutely critical to ensuring that all of our residents can earn a living wage. Unfortunately, Republicans couldn't see fit to even allow that. For a party that purports to believe in local control and decentralizing government, it really shows their hypocrisy when they care more about keeping wages low than they do about living up to their principles.
On Wednesday, I brought up a bill that really should not have been controversial. Virginia currently makes it extremely difficult for someone to have their wedding officiated by a close friend or relative. You have to put up a $500 bond and undergo detailed questioning by a judge that, for no reason given, could accept or reject your wedding officiant. My bill would have greatly simplified the process and allowed a couple permission to choose their wedding officiant without intervention by the Government. The Republicans on the subcommittee defeated the proposal without even giving a reason. I can understand and respect that we won't always agree on everything, but all of our legislators owe the people of this Commonwealth a good reason when they reject commonsense, nonpartisan ideas like this one. I suspect there are very few Virginians, liberal or conservative, who want the Government telling us who should officiate at our wedding.
After bringing four bills up to start the week, I had four more up in the same afternoon on Thursday. It wasn't all bad news. HB 1003 was voted unanimously through subcommittee. This bill would phase out Virginia's electronic voting machines and ensure that every new voting machine produces a paper record of some kind to verify each and every vote. Protecting the integrity of our elections is essential to the functioning of our democracy and I am proud to be helping to make sure that we can always double check our election results and know that the person holding office is the person who was chosen by the people.
One of the priorities constituents have consistently expressed to me is asking me to do everything I can to reduce gun violence. HB 1000 would have extended criminal background checks to online private gun sales. We have to stop criminals from circumventing background checks by purchasing guns on the Internet through websites set up explicitly for this purpose. HB 1001 would have blocked anyone suspected by the federal government of being a terrorist from buying a firearm. Many Republicans claim to be concerned about terrorism, but they clearly don't want to take even the simplest measures to stop known Al Qaeda and ISIS members from buying military-grade semiautomatic weapons and terrorizing Americans on our home soil. I guess when the choice is between appeasing the NRA and protecting the homeland from terrorist attack, Democrats and Republicans have different priorities.
Finally, in my fourth bill of the day and my eighth for the week, I presented my plan to provide up to 60 days of paid maternity and paternity leave, as well as paid leave to take care of dying or seriously ill parents, spouses, or children. It would have been completely funded by a very small 0.2% tax on wages (only $100 for someone making $50,000 a year) and would have spared Virginia's families from having to make heart-wrenching decisions about whether or not to abandon family members at the time of their greatest need in order to pay for food or rent. There's been a lot of talk about family values over the years, but this bill is what family values are really all about. The Republicans tabled the bill.
In addition to my eight bills this week, I also presented an amendment to this year's budget to provide $5 million annually to counties and cities in a dollar-for-dollar match to implement body-worn cameras for their law enforcement. Body cameras are supported by social justice activists and law enforcement alike. Even if I don't get all the money I asked for, I do hope the House will accept my amendment and provide some funds to help get these systems in place throughout Virginia as soon as possible.
The Virginia Transparency Caucus I co-founded with Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) will hold its first meeting next week on February 5th in the 4th Floor East Conference Room.
It is always my honor and pleasure to serve you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax