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MARK IN THE NEWS
My Bill on the National Popular Vote
National popular vote proposal fails in Va. Senate committee
My Bills to Protect Virginians from Discrimination
A Bit More on the Man with the Gun who Came to my Home
Mount Vernon Gazette
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Virginia's Democratic Presidential Primary is this Tuesday, March 3!
Virginians must help decide who will take on Donald Trump in November.
Polls are open on Election Day from 6 am to 7 pm.
You will vote at your regular polling place.
On Election Day, you must vote at your designated polling place, so be sure to confirm your registration and location at vote.elections.virginia.gov before you go.
You can cast a provisional ballot if you don't have ID.
Don't let anyone tell you you can't vote because you don't have the right ID!
As many of you know, two days ago, I endorsed former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who -- I'm sorry to say -- just announced he quit the race. Oops. My timing may not have been the greatest...
Because I had to vote absentee (since I'll be in Richmond on Tuesday), I cast my vote for him on Saturday. Now I've lost my vote. Ack!
I'm not happy about it. But hopefully, I'll never lose my vote again. I'm looking forward to the Virginia bill I copatroned becoming law which will allow all of us to vote absentee on the Sunday and Monday before Election Day and even on Election Day, so long as the ballot is postmarked by Election Day. If this legislation had been the law right now, I wouldn't have lost my vote this Tuesday. I suspect it will be the law for every future election, including this November.
I'm not sure who I'd vote for now. My second choice would have been Senator Elizabeth Warren if I felt she had a chance to win. I've always admired her intelligence, her toughness, her persistence, and her solid progressive values. And I'd love to see her tear apart Donald Trump in a debate. But she's been doing badly in the polls. I think she may drop out after Super Tuesday. I would be thrilled if she did well, but I have to be realistic as well.
I might well have cast my vote for Vice President Joe Biden since he has a more likely chance of prevailing. I've always liked Biden, even if he is not as progressive as I am. He is a hero to working people, and I think he connects with people well. I think he was stronger a decade ago, but he still has the compassion and judgment that I agree with the vast majority of the time.
I have no serious problems with Amy Klobuchar, although I don't see how she lasts any longer than Warren (probably less long).
I'm not a big fan of Sanders or Bloomberg. Sanders is too far to the left for me. Bloomberg is too far to the right. Neither is really a Democrat, although both have aspects that I admire. I appreciate Sanders' concern for people with lower incomes. I just don't think a declared socialist is likely to win a general election. And, to be honest, I don't quite trust ex-Republican Bloomberg, although I certainly praise his hard work at preventing gun violence.
Of course, I will strongly support the Democratic nominee,
no matter who it is.
Donald Trump is a danger to the American Republic itself.
I would prefer a venomous toad in office than the corrupt, narcissistic, simpleton con artist that seems to take pleasure in tearing apart the rule of law and our comity and civility, as he sets Americans to hating each other and encourages white supremacists to promote race war. I'd prefer a President who actually has read the Constitution and cares at least a tiny bit about domestic or foreign policy, rather than a wannabe dictator whose only concern is how best to line his pocket. We know the Overton Window has moved far in the direction of corruption, when a President is thrilled to have the Russians rig American elections in his favor, and the Republican Party can't be bothered to care. Ronald Reagan is doing flip flops in his grave. Meanwhile, no one notices the fraud-loving reality star is quite busy pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money by forcing public officials and the Secret Service to stay at his hotels. Remember when grabbing taxpayer money for your personal profit used to be considered a bad thing?
Never in American history have we had
a more incompetent or venal President.
I think Biden might be best at healing that divide and bringing us back from the brink of madness. He's also doing well in the national polls. I think Warren would make a strong progressive case against Trump, fighting stupid fire with intelligent fire. And if you're concerned she's too progressive, you have to know that Congress will almost certainly water down any of her strongly progressive ideas, just as they did to Obama.
So if you haven't voted yet, I would advise voting for Biden or Warren. Warren is a bit closer to my values, but Biden's campaign is doing far better. I considered Buttigieg to be inbetween the two. I'm sorry Mayor Pete dropped out, but I'm confident he has a bright future.
Five of my Bills Passed the Senate This Week
Six More Bills Move Forward
Five of my bills passed the Senate this week and will soon be headed to the Governor for his signature. This brings the total numbers of bills mine that have passed the House and Senate to ELEVEN. The other six bills that passed prior to this week are: HB179, HB245, HB246, HB1053, HB861, and HB244 (as part of HB1150).
The following FIVE of my bills passed out of the Senate this week. You can read more detail about them in past newsletters:
1. HB180, removing race questions from marriage licenses and divorce petitions, passed the Senate unanimously on Monday.
2. HB789, the Fairness in Lending Act, which incorporated my HB184 (reigning in predatory payday loans with absurdly high interest rates), passed the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee on Tuesday and the full Senate 28-12 on Wednesday.
These three bills have passed out of both chambers in slightly different forms and will go to conference:
4. HB972, marijuana decriminalization, which incorporated my HB301, passed out of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee on Tuesday and the full Senate, 27-13, on Thursday. This bill will dramatically transform how we treat marijuana users in Virginia, reducing the penalty sharply from a criminal offense to a $25 civil fine.
5. HB1552, to limit inhumane tethering of pets, made it out of the Senate Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee by a vote of 8-5 on Tuesday and the full Senate on Friday, 19-17.
In addition to these ELEVEN bills, these SIX bills passed a Senate Committee or Subcommittee this week:
1. HB1049 Comprehensive LGBT+ non-discrimination passed the Senate General Laws Committee on Thursday, by a vote of 9-3. Watch my presentation of the bill by clicking the image below and fast forwarding to the 1:33:40 mark of the video.
The above was actually my second presentation of the bill to this same committee. You can watch my first presentation, which I did on February 19, by fast forwarding to the 2:46:40 mark of the video linked below.
This bill could use some help from advocates. Please encourage everyone you know in Virginia to write their senators and delegates in support of it.
2. HB894 (Training new teachers on de-escalation techniques) passed the Senate Public Education subcommittee on Monday and the full Education and Health Committee 9-6 on Thursday. You can watch my presentation to the subcommittee by clicking the image below.
3. HB1663, which incorporated my HB1050 and strengthens the remedies in Virginia law against employment and public accommodations discrimination, passed the Senate General Laws Committee 9-2. The Senate version, SB868, passed the House (with a House substitute that was agreed to by the Senate) on Thursday.
5. HB582, which incorporated my HB327, allows public servants to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions. This bill passed Senate Commerce and Labor with a substitute 12-3 on Monday and must now pass the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee.
6. HB198, which incorporated my HB178, requires tied votes in elections to be resolved through special elections rather than drawing a name from a bowl; the bill passed out of Privileges and Elections with a substitute by a vote of 9-5.
The following TWO bills of mine have yet to be heard by the Senate or a Senate Committee:
1. HB863, making it easier for non-clergy to perform marriage ceremonies, will be heard tomorrow (Monday) morning, March 2.
2. HB1406, which incorporated my HB181, will remove Virginia's Robert E. Lee statue from the US Capitol and has yet to be heard by the Senate Rules Committee. But the good news is the House has passed a Senate bill that does the same thing. SB612, the Senate companion for this bill, passed the House 55-44 on Monday.
Five of my bills that passed the House
but failed to move forward in the Senate this week
I'm always disappointed when a bill dies or is continued to next year, particularly after it passes the House. If there's a strong policy reason to kill a bill, that's one thing, but sometimes bills die for silly reasons.
That said, the reason we call these bills that did not pass the Senate "Not Yet Successes" is that I think they are all important enough to bring back. Many of my bills have taken several years to become law, and we will persist to keep coming back until they are law.
So we haven't failed with these proposed policies.
We just haven't succeeded yet.
I'll be back.
1. HB183 would have permitted localities, if they so chose, to fund law libraries -- so that people who cannot afford lawyers would be able know their legal rights prior to being evicted from their homes or going to jail. Nineteen Republicans and a couple of Democrats killed this bill to let poor people have some measure of due process in our court system.
The bill would have allowed localities to raise a $4 fee by $3 on civil litigants who voluntarily pay thousands (and usually tens of thousands of dollars or more) to sue others. The fee had not been raised in a half century. And, if your lawsuit cost $42,465, you are highly unlikely to notice much if it cost $42,468 instead.
To watch the Senate first floor vote on the bill, go to the 2:47:40 mark of the video linked below.
Unfortunately, the bill was defeated on the Senate floor by a vote of 21-19, after having passed the General Laws Committee 11-1. You can watch the full Senate vote on it by going to the 1:03:33 mark of the video linked below.
A Republican Senator, having voted repeatedly to raise fees higher and higher on criminal defendants and people with speeding tickets -- in some cases by more than 10%, got upset at the suggestion that a civil litigant spending more than $30,000 might have to pay less than 0.01% more in their voluntarily-chosen lawsuit. The goal for Republicans always seems to be to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
We lobbied the two Democrats who voted against it and got one to switch his vote. Another one promised me he would support it next year with different funding. But the Republican who supported the bill changed his mind on reconsideration. So we still lost 21-19. Frustrating! But I'll be back!
2. HB416, which incorporated my HB326, bars salary-history questions for job applicants that reinforce the gender and race-based wage gaps that bolster income inequality. This bill was continued to next year by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, 12-1. Again, frustrating. Stymied by the Senate. What possible fair reason is for an employer to know someone's prior salary unless the goal is to underpay that person? I'll be back on this one, too.
3. HB321 (electronic meetings for local officials) was passed by indefinitely by the Senate General Laws Committee by a vote of 11-1 on Thursday. Watch my presentation at the 1:59:48 mark of the video linked below. This bill had a "Not Invented Here" problem. No one seemed opposed to the bill per se, but they thought we should take it to the Freedom of Information Act council first.
Here's what I don't understand. If everyone thinks an idea is good, why go through unnecessary process? We've done a lot more consequential bills (like the redistricting amendment, see below) with far, far less scrutiny than this simple bill that would have made meetings a bit more convenient for hard-working local officials.
So yes. I'll go through the red tape of the FOIA Council. But then I'll be back.
4. HB1288, which incorporated my HB900, prohibits domestic abusers and sexual predators from purchasing or possessing guns, was continued to next year by the Senate Judiciary Committee, 12-3. I get that some Senators don't "want to pass too many gun bills," but that's a political way of looking at things. The policy is solid. Do we or don't we want people with a history of domestic and sexual violence to have an easy method of murdering their victims?
To ask the question is to answer it.
You know I'll be back here fighting this fight next year.
5. HB177 (National Popular Vote) probably got the most media and email attention. The bill was continued to 2021 by the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee by a vote of 14-1. I will keep up the fight for a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We the People deserve democracy. Nothing less. You can watch my presentation of the bill by going to the 32:32 mark of the video linked below.
I'm actually quite optimistic about passing this bill next year, as the Democrats that opposed it in the Senate made clear they just wanted to get past the 2020 election. If all goes well, and Virginia passes this bill next year, and so do states totalling 61 electoral votes (say Florida, Pennsylvania, and Michigan) by 2024, the People of the United States of America could finally elect the 2024 President by the national popular vote. And if it happens, I will be proud of our role -- and Virginia's -- in making it happen.
The fate of redistricting reform - whether we pass the constitutional amendment, or legislation, or something else - remains to be seen. The Privileges and Elections Committee will hear the proposed amendment, SJ18, on Monday. I sit on that committee. I will be voting against the amendment, which allows a body appointed by Republicans (the Virginia Supreme Court) the unrestrained ability to gerrymander Virginia.
Instead, I support Delegate Price's redistricting reform bill, HB1255, which gives the decision to a bipartisan commission, rather than a Republican-appointed body. I hope the bill will pass out of the Senate. It has already passed the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee and has been referred to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee.
A new possible path forward emerged this week.
A report from the Richmond Times-Dispatch said that Governor Northam is considering introducing a whole new proposal for redistricting reform.
The article says he is considering calling a special session to consider it if the General Assembly chooses not to move forward with any of the proposals currently being considered. You can read that article here:
The Virginia Mercury also has a good summary (that's not behind a paywall) that you can read by clicking here.
This is very exciting news!
WHY I OPPOSE THE GERRYMANDER AMENDMENT
If you've been getting my newsletter since last fall, you know the answer to this question already.
And I know many were persuaded by my one-on-one respectful but tough debate with the Executive Director of OneVirginia2021, Brian Cannon.
If you're new to this question, care about it, but want to learn more about my position, I strongly recommend reviewing these resources.
I have received letters both for and against the amendment. To those against, I agree with you and have been fighting hard.
Dear Ms./Mr. _______,
I strongly support redistricting reform, with diversity, transparency, and fairness on the Commonwealth’s first-ever redistricting commission. And that’s why I strongly oppose the Republicans’ tricky constitutional amendment that you have asked me to support. Read it. You’ll see that, unlike our proposals, there are no strong protections for communities of color other than those already found in the United States Constitution.
The devil is in the details. I’ve provided some guidance to it below. Basically the amendment throws the entire process to a body chosen by Republicans: the Virginia Supreme Court. And it allows them to gerrymander Virginia as they please with zero guardrails (or transparency or fairness).
I strongly urge you to read the constitutional amendment, whose final version was proposed by Republican leaders. There’s a reason why, having opposed any effort to prevent gerrymandering for more than two decades, Republicans now suddenly unanimously support this amendment. And that’s because the amendment is the only way Republicans can continue to gerrymander Virginia in 2021, 2031, 2041, and into the future as far as the eye can see.
It may surprise you that I fear a Constitutional Amendment, ostensibly put forward to prevent gerrymandering, is likely to increase it. Partly this is because there has been a massive disinformation campaign to sanitize the amendment. It even tricked me and some of my Democratic colleagues when it was presented to us with just a few minutes to read it on the last day of session last year. But the devil, as always, is in the details. And here’s the troubling detail:
The amendment says that if two Republican leaders object, then a body chosen entirely by Republicans — the Virginia Supreme Court, all of whose members were chosen by the Republican-controlled House of Delegates and a majority of whose members were chosen by a Republican Senate — shall establish all the districts, with zero guardrails or criteria or appellate or legal rights to stop them.
As this proposal would be in the Virginia Constitution — and as the Virginia Supreme Court would continue to be chosen by the very representatives that the Court chose to represent Virginia — this could well lead to a permanent Virginia Republican gerrymander and take voters as much as possible out of the process of choosing who represents them.
That’s quite some power to give to a minority party: to allow it to install itself in power forever!
Democrats have put forward an alternative proposal (HB1256) to establish a bipartisan commission that allows neither Republicans nor Democrats to be in complete control of the process. It relies on both parties and ordinary citizens. Furthermore, there is a criteria bill (HB1255), which incorporates my HB1054 and lays out detailed standards to reduce gerrymandering and to protect the diversity — racial, ethnic, and political — of the Commonwealth. These are standards you won't find in the proposed constitutional amendment.
As the amendment gives line-drawing power to a body appointed by the minority Republican Party — who are on record as supporting massive Republican gerrymanders in their favor — I cannot support it.
I will be voting no tomorrow. Instead, I have my own constitutional amendment which, if it passes next year, will go into effect for 2031 and beyond and will permanently enshrine fairness, rather than a Republican gerrymander, in our Constitution.
And frankly, after you read and understand exactly what their proposed amendment does — as distinct from what it purports to do — I hope to persuade you to oppose it as well.
I understand it’s a bit jarring for me to tell you something so contrary to what you’ve heard, so I’m directing you to some of my many writings and speeches on the subject:
Thank you for writing me, and please don’t hesitate to write back. I truly hope after reading and/or listening to some (or all!) of my perspective on this, I can actually change your mind on the subject.
Respectfully, your delegate,
Now here's the exciting news. After sending this response email back to constituents who wrote me in support of the Amendment, well over 80% of those who wrote me changed their minds!
They had been sold the amendment as a device to prevent gerrymandering. But once the vast majority of them did the research themselves, read the amendment, and checked the links, they recognized the validity of the argument I made.
What an incredible joy it is to represent constituents
who are intelligent, open-minded, and diligent enough...|
to trust me but also verify me.
I love the 45th!
We work hard. Some nights until very late, like Wednesday, when we were on the floor until just before 1:30 AM. We earn every penny of our $17,640 annual salary. And we (almost) never fall asleep at our job.
While the video above is pretty funny, the circumstances it depicted actually isn't a laughing matter.
A 13+ hour long floor session, where we are trying to decipher amendments to bills after 1:00 AM, after already having voted on or debated hundreds of bills, can be how bad laws get passed. This is the inevitable result when the legislature has fewer than 9 weeks (fewer than 7 weeks in even-numbered years) to conduct the business of the people of the Commonwealth. I was pretty careful, had lots of caffeine, and didn't fall asleep, but don't be surprised that I'm still tired after looking at thousands of bills in only two months.
We need to study professionalizing our legislature to make sure Virginia is governed as well as possible. One change I'd like to see to the rules is to make sure we have at least an hour to review language of a bill before voting on it. Frankly, I'd prefer three hours. Not having enough time to review legislation is how we got this seriously flawed constitutional amendment in the first place.
Oh, and I support more sleep...
Pictures from Session
Thank you to all the activists and advocates who spoke
in support of joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
Great meeting these women from Together We Bake, a comprehensive workforce training and personal development program for women in need of a second chance. Among guests who work there is Elizabeth Bennett-Parker,
Alexandria's Vice Mayor (center, teal coat).
I love when constituents who visit "represent" on my 45th District Map.
Thank you to the 40+ engaged citizens who came to my Monthly Meetup last week.
Saturday afternoon, March 7
Adjournment Sine Die
Virginia State Capitol
1000 Bank Street, Richmond
...And then I come home and sleep!
(after writing your last session newsletter, of course...)
I thank you again for the honor and privilege to serve you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District