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Advocates Seek to Ban Guns at Virginia Polling Locations
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While Our 30-Day Session is More than Half Done,
We Will Continue to End of February.
We began session on Wednesday, January 14. Today marks the conclusion of our second full week in session. And believe it or not, since we are on day 17, our session is technically more than half over. You may recall the Republicans for the first time since our Constitution was approved in 1971 forced our regular session to conclude after only 30 days instead of the typical 46.
But Democrats are still the majority in Virginia. And so, on Day 31, we will ask the Governor to convene a special session of 16 more days to finish our work under its normal schedule. The Republican game-playing will not stop us from completing our work. They may not want to do what they were elected to do, but we Democrats are committed to doing our job. They want to work less than usual. But we are working harder than ever. Virginia deserves nothing less, particularly at a time of massive suffering from COVID, the need to people vaccinated as soon as we get vaccine from the federal government, and very tough economic times.
Nine Out of Ten:
Where My Legislative Agenda Stands at the End of Week 2
I submitted 10 measures in 2021. We were limited to 7 bills, but I was able to introduce an additional constitutional amendment on marriage equality, a study on inland and urban flooding, and a budget amendment to end Virginia taxpayer funding of Confederate gravesite maintenance, since these last three measures are not technically "bills."
Thus far, three of my bills have passed the House and are on their way to the Senate (Good Apples Act, No Guns in Polling Places, Virtual Local Meetings). Two are on their way to the House Floor this week (No Guns in Capitol, Repeal Requirement that Virginia Fund Discrimination in Foster Care). One (Redistricting Transparency) passed subcommittee Friday and is going to Committee next Wednesday and the Floor next Friday. That's 6 total bills.
My Constitutional Amendment on Marriage Equality will be heard in the subcommittee I chair tomorrow, and my study was approved with a letter to the appropriate agencies. I'm still waiting to hear about the budget amendment.
Only one bill met defeat. As I describe below, the National Popular Vote bill sponsored by me in the House and Senator Adam Ebbin in the Senate was stricken by Ebbin in the Senate, with Ebbin citing insufficient support among Senators. This action, in effect, kills the National Popular Vote bill.
While I'm disappointed by the Senate's failure to take up the National Popular Vote, my record remains so far 9 to 1. Hopefully, we can turn the the other 9 measures into law!
Two of My Pro-Democracy Bills Pass the House
1. NO GUNS IN POLLING PLACES AND VOTE-COUNTING CENTERS
My Safe Elections Bill (HB2081), banning guns at polling places, vote counting centers, and recount centers, passed the full House on Monday evening by a vote of 53-47.
This bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. There is no Senate counterpart to my bill. Please encourage your Senator to support this bill.
2. MAKE GOVERNMENT MORE ACCESSIBLE
HB1931, my Virtual Meetings Bill, passed the House unanimously on Tuesday.
The bill allows people serving in local government to participate virtually in public meetings when they need to take care of a sick family member or attend to a personal matter. The bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council and is supported by the Virginia Municipal League, Virginia Association of Counties, more than 100 local elected officials, and numerous women's groups as well.
With this law, Virginians with substantial responsibilities in family caregiving will have a greater opportunity to serve their communities as well. The bill has been referred to the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee. Please encourage your Senator to support this bill.
Two Bills Set for Floor Votes Next Week
3. NO GUNS IN CAPITOL SQUARE AND GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS
My Safe Capitol Bill (HB2295), banning firearms in the Capitol, Capitol Square, and state government buildings, had a few hiccups on the House Floor this past week, but it is noe set for a vote by the full House on Monday. I am working out concerns with my colleagues. If I am not your Delegate, please encourage your Delegate to support this bill.
4. REPEALING TAXPAYER-FUNDED ANTI-GAY BIGOTRY IN ADOPTION & FOSTER CARE
My Repeal Foster-Care Discrimination Act (HB1932) repealing the 2012 "taxpayer-funded discrimination" law in adoption and foster care passed the Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee and is headed to the House Floor next week.
Virginia already struggles with foster children aging out of the foster care system before they can find a loving home. We are near the bottom of the nation in this regard. Loving people who can ably take care of children and want to give them a loving home should not be prevented from doing so simply because they are in a same-sex marriage or a different religion from folks who want to take our taxpayer dollars to fund their discrimination.
My presentation of the bill in the Social Services Subcommittee is linked below. What you'll see is a weird feature of our all-virtual session: the "rooms" we meet in have very exact shut off times. As my bill was the last to be heard, there wasn't quite enough time for all the public comment to be heard and for the subcommittee to vote before the livestream shut down. Because of my efforts leading the Transparency Caucus, all subcommittee votes must be recorded. So the subcommittee ended up meeting briefly at the beginning of the next full committee hearing to give this bill a recorded/livestreamed/archived vote.
Below is my bill presentation in subcommittee:
Watch my presentation of HB1932 in subcommittee by clicking here.
To watch video of this bill passing subcommittee, click here.
One Bill Passes Subcommittee
5. REDISTRICTING TRANSPARENCY
My Redistricting Transparency Act (HB2082) passed out of the Voting Rights Subcommittee without a single "no" vote on Friday morning.
The bill requires all meetings of the Redistricting Commission or Supreme Court to be advertised, livestreamed, and available for meaningful public comment. It increases the number and effectiveness of public hearings and public comment and makes sure the redistricting website is easily accessible. It also requires the Virginia Supreme Court to undergo the same transparency standard should they draw the maps that the commission does.
The equation here is simple: more transparency + more public input = fairer maps.
Thanks to the Virginia Civic Engagement Table, New Virginia Majority, ProgressVA, SEIU Virginia 512, 32BJ SEIU, Advancement Project, Virginia Grassroots Coalition, Virginia Coalition for Open Government, and Herndon-Reston Indivisible, among many others, for supporting this bill.
Watch me present my Redistricting Transparency Act in subcommittee by clicking here.
In Case You Missed It:
6. The Good Apples Act Passed with Bipartisan Support
On to the Senate!
Please write your Senators and urge them to support this common-sense measure supported by racial justice groups, youth justice reform groups, and rainbow (LGBTQ+) rights groups.
7. Study on Urban/Inland Flooding
As mentioned in a previous newsletter, HJ552 will create a subcommittee tasked with developing a comprehensive and coordinated planning effort to address recurrent flooding in inland and urban areas throughout Virginia. The chairman expressed his willingness to study this question with a "letter" to the appropriate agencies. Climate change caused three so-called 100-Year Floods in the 45th district just last year!
8. Constitutional Amendment on Marriage Equality
Last week, we heard in the Constitutional Amendments subcommittee I chair, my constitutional amendment to repeal the part of the Virginia Constitution banning marriage equality. My amendment (HJ539) would also constitutionally require Virginia to allow marriage equality in the future.
We will vote on the measure at our next hearing tomorrow (Monday). I'm optimistic it will pass tomorrow in my subcommittee, but like any constitutional amendment, this would only be the first step in a long series of steps it must undergo to become law. It must then pass the full House Privileges & Elections Committee on Wednesday and the full House on Friday. It must then pass the Senate in February 2021. Then, there must be the Election of 2021. If we Democrats retain the majority in the House, it would have to again pass the House and Senate in 2022 and be put to you, the voters in November 2022. Only after passing at that time would it become part of our Constitution.
Yes, despite all these obstacles, I'm confident we will eventually succeed. We must be prepared lest the new justices on the United States Supreme Court again reduce Rainbow Americans to second-class citizens.
9. Budget Amendment to Remove Virginia Funding for Maintenance of Confederate Graves
My budget amendment to finally remove Virginia taxpayer funding of Confederate grave maintenance was described this in detail in last week's newsletter. Watch me present my budget amendment by clicking here
10. National Popular Vote Goes Down in the Senate
I strongly believe that the President of the United States should be elected by the People of the United States. Because I also believe (as it says in our Declaration of Independence) that all men (and women) are created equal and (as it says in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution) that we all must have equal protection of the laws, I have come to the obvious conclusion that the archaic Electoral College has long out-lived whatever usefulness it ever had.
Designed by the Founders in the last days of the Constitutional Convention -- and complained of by James Madison, who said the delegates were tired and eager to go home -- the Electoral College is premised on three basic principles: 1) the United States of America will never develop political parties, 2) no state would ever have winner-take-all electoral slates, and 3) people who own slaves should receive 60% more representation than non-slaveowners, while enslaved persons, Native Americans, and women should get no representation at all. Reason 1 was proved false in 1796, Reason 2 ended in the 1840's, and Reason 3 collapsed following the Civil War and Women's Emancipation.
Now, in effect, our system means your vote only is likely to matter if you live in one of the five swing states (PA, WI, MI, AZ, GA). I don't consider the people in those five states to be "super-citizens". I think every American citizen should be equal under the law.
Now the Electoral College merely props up an apartheid-like system whereby Presidents like Donald Trump and George W. Bush solidly rejected by the American People in free and fair elections get to rule anyway while the winners who received the most votes (Al Gore, Hillary Clinton) must step aside so that the loser takes over. The Electoral College is expressly contrary to basic principles of fairness and democracy, which is why no other republic in the world has such a convoluted system. In other nations, the person with the most votes wins. Fancy that.
So yes, I strongly support the National Popular Vote, and last December, I wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post giving further reasons why.
So what happened to my bill? This year, as last year, both Senator Ebbin and I introduced the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. I introduced it in the House (HB1933), and he introduced it in the Senate (SB1101).
Unfortunately, for the second time in two years, Senator Adam Ebbin struck his version of the bill. This means that even if my bill were to pass the House -- as it did in 2020 -- it is dead on arrival in the Senate. By striking the bill, Senator Ebbin has made clear he believes the National Popular Vote will never pass the current Virginia Senate, because he believes all Republicans and at least two Democratic Senators strongly oppose this measure giving all Americans the equal right under the law to elect the President of the United States.
I had convinced at least two Senators who opposed the bill last year to support it this year. But when we could not ensure ahead of time we had the 20 Senate votes we needed, Senator Ebbin struck the bill. Personally I would have preferred putting it to a vote so we knew exactly who is obstructing its passage. You know I like transparency! So I urge advocates to make a public list of the Senators who are on the record supporting or opposing this measure to put pressure on recalcitrant Democratic Senators to change their mind.
One Senator (John Edwards) has stated his opposition openly in the press. Edwards said he believes the bill is unconstitutional, although every single US Supreme Court precedent has ruled such state compacts are indeed constitutional. See, e.g., Virginia v. Tennessee, 148 U.S. 503 (1893) and United States Steel Corp. v. Multistate Tax Commission, 434 U.S. 452 (1978).
The other Virginia Senator who killed the bill has yet to come forward. Recall that Democrats currently have a 21-18 advantage in the Virginia Senate. So if the other Democratic Senator who doesn't like the National Popular Vote would simply not cast a vote -- rather than vote against the measure -- we could still pass the law 19-19 where the Lieutenant Governor would cast the deciding vote for victory.
Let's find out who that secret Senator is. Advocates, please write all Senators and ask them to publicly state where they stand on the National Popular Vote. In the unlikely event you get 20 public yes vote commitments for HB1933 by this Wednesday, February 3 (or 19 yeses plus a promise by one Senator not to vote), I would still have time to move forward on the bill in the House in 2021. But given Senator Ebbin's action, he obviously does not believe this can be done. So I'm not optimistic. Still, your work can help us identify exactly who the recalcitrant Senators are.
In effect, this action kills the National Popular Vote bill not just this year but for several years to come. There is really nothing we can do until some Virginia Senator changes his or her mind or we get a new Senate. There's no point in putting forward the legislation again in 2022 or 2023, only to have its Senate patron strike the measure a third or fourth time, in effect killing the measure before it even gets started. At this rate, unless the composition of the Senate changes sooner, Virginia will be unable to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact until at least 2024, after we elect some new Democratic Senators in November 2023. When an additional vote for the measure materializes in the Senate, I commit to you to try again, whether I do so as a Delegate or as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia.
I never give up on issues I care strongly about. So I'm confident we will eventually succeed in getting the National Popular Vote for President of the United States, even if it takes a new Virginia Senate to do so. Recall that the Lieutenant Governor casts all tie-breaking votes in the Senate. Nothing would give me greater joy than to be the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia and to cast the deciding vote that brings the National Popular Vote out of a 20-20 Virginia Senate. Perhaps by 2024, Virginia's 13 electoral votes will put the USA over the top just in time!
I think Democrats should support democracy. So it truly pains me to see at least two Democratic Senators take a stand against the basic proposition that all Americans are created equal and are entitled to equal rights under the law. It never surprises me when Republicans seek to undermine democracy, but when Democrats oppose the basic democratic principle of "one person, one vote", I can only hang my head.
(Some of) The Bills I'm Supporting
Here are bills for which I am Chief Co-Patron. There may be a few more coming.
- HB 1805 Aging services; social need.
- HB 1848 Virginia Human Rights Acts; adds discrimination on the basis of disability.
- HB 1992 Firearms; purchase, etc., following conviction for assault and battery of a family member.
- HB 2075 Jefferson Davis Highway; renames any section of U.S. Route 1 to "Loving Memorial Highway."
- HB 2130 Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Board; established, report.
- HB 2132 Homicides and assaults and bodily woundings; certain matters not to constitute defenses.
- HB 2324 Virginia Redistricting Commission; removing a citizen commissioner for neglect, etc.
- HB 2325 Corrections Ombudsman, Office of the Department of; created, report.
I am still reviewing other members' bills so the list will only grow. The bills I have signed onto include:
- Repealing "right to work for less" anti-worker laws
- Repealing the ban on abortion coverage in the state healthcare exchange
- Paid Sick Leave
- Banning made-at-home "ghost" guns with no serial numbers
- Strengthening the State Corporation Commission's ability to regulate Dominion Energy and protect ratepayers from overcharges
- Bolstering Virginia's ability to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine effectively and efficiently
Meeting with Teachers
One of my favorite groups to meet with when they would visit Richmond is our teachers. This week, I met with Alexandrian teachers virtually. These good teachers and many more like them throughout Virginia are why I also signed onto a bill to ensure that our teachers are paid at or above the natural average.
The Education Association of Alexandria
I thank you again for the honor and privilege of serving you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District