Representing Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax

Newsletter - March 12, 2020

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Chair, Public Safety

Committee Assignments:
Courts of Justice
Privileges & Elections
Public Safety
Health, Welfare, & Institutions



Virginia Democrats reflect on historic General Assembly session

‘I will shoot you’: Los Angeles DA sorry after her husband pulls gun on Black Lives Matter protesters at their home
Washington Post


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Note if you want detailed information on the novel coronavirus, please check your email for the newsletter I sent yesterday. I will do my best to obey the same advice I sent you. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go wash my hands for 20 seconds....

While you are reading this email, I'm on the road, wending my way back to Richmond for the final day of Session. I got up at 5:30 am this morning so I can make it to the Capitol in time for 9 am Caucus and our 10 am session. If all goes well, I'll be back in Alexandria and finally be able to stay home for awhile for some badly-needed rest and relaxation. It feels good to sleep in my own bed again and not to have to worry that I'll oversleep an alarm and possibly lose three of my bills.

Now, onto the session update...

The Virginia General Assembly's 2020 legislative session is almost over.

All legislation has been acted on, except the budget, a procedural matter or two, and the appointment of some judges, all of which I expect to be accomplished today.

Today I expect we will finally adjourn sine die.

Sine die, Latin for "without day" means we will adjourn today without setting a day to reconvene. In other words, it will be the final day of the regular 2020 session. Under the Constitution, we will still have our "reconvene session" on Wednesday, April 22, when we will consider the Governor's amendments and vetos to the bills that passed the House and Senate. But, absent a special session declared by the Governor later on this year, today and April 22 will be the last days the legislature will meet in 2020. (Individual committees can meet, however, during this time.)

Obviously the most important issue to consider today is the final passage of the biennial budget, which I intend to vote for today. Click here to read the final legislative budget prior to Governor's amendments. I will write more about the budget in a future newsletter.

I also will send a newsletter next week highlighting the great, transformational changes the Democratic majorities in the Virginia General Assembly enacted into law. Frankly, the list is so long that I need some time to draft it up. And even so, I'm sure I'll miss some important things, because we did sooooo much! But if you can't wait, you can read a brief rundown of some of the big pieces of legislation we passed this year by clicking here.

After all, this year we did something amazing:

We passed 1289 bills!

In most sessions, we pass 800-something.

The last full week of session was devoted to casting votes on final bills and resolving differences between the Senate's and House's similar bills through conference reports. This article by Graham Moomaw of the Virginia Mercury offers a solid explanation of the conference report process: In whirlwind finish to a hectic session, many remaining issues will be resolved out of the public eye. 

So for now, I'll just focus on four big bills we passed this week: raising minimum wage, fighting climate change, decriminalizing marijuana, and comprehensively protecting LGBT Virginians from discrimination. The last two bills, I'm proud to say, were my own.

Four Big Bills Passed this Week

1. We Raised the Minimum Wage.

For the first time in 11 years, minimum-wage workers in Virginia are getting a raise!

Virginia's minimum wage is on the path to $12 per hour by 2023 and, quite possibly, $15 by 2026.

The House and Senate came to an agreement that is a huge step forward for some 800,000 Virginians. And when their wages go up, it is highly likely that others earning more will go up as well.

The version that passed the House would have raised the minimum wage to $9 per hour as of July 1, 2020 and $15 per hour by July 1, 2025. The Senate resisted going that fast. So a deal was cut.

The final minimum wage increase that passed the General Assembly sets the following wage increases for the entire Commonwealth:

It will go up to:

$9.50 per hour on January 1, 2021

$11 per hour on January 1, 2022, and

$12 per hour on January 1, 2023.

As part of the deal we struck with the Senate, lawmakers will then have to "re-enact" the increases set for 2024 and beyond for them to become a reality. But by 2024, there will have been another election for the Senate in 2023. So if the newly elected Senators agrees and we don’t have a Republican takeover in Senate or House, the minimum wage will then be:

$13.50 in 2025
$15 in 2026.

Thereafter, it'll be tied to the Consumer Price Index.
As part of the deal worked out with the Senate, the bill exempts farmworkers, au pairs (foreign caregivers who live in the home under a State-Department program), work-study students, and students who under 18 working less than 20 hours per week.
While I wish we could have done a bit more a bit faster, I'm thrilled that we're raising the minimum wage for millions of Virginians. All workers need to be paid fair wages. Delegate Jeion Ward fought hard to craft this minimum wage bill and make it the strongest it could possibly be.

2. We Passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act.

As my Arlington colleague and House Democratic Caucus Chair Rip Sullivan described this bill in his newsletter:
"This legislation marks a transformative, historic leap forward on energy and environmental policy that will launch Virginia to being a national leader in the effort to combat climate change, develop a sustainable energy portfolio, and create jobs for the 21st century economy throughout the Commonwealth."
"Virginia is now on a path to reach zero carbon emissions by 2045, create job opportunities in former coal mining communities, expand offshore wind and solar energy, increase distributed clean energy generation, expand net metering, increase purchase power agreements, unlock clean energy competition, dramatically expand rooftop solar, and save ratepayers money through mandatory energy efficiency requirements for utilities."
This legislation, when signed by the Governor, will make Virginia the leading Southern State to fight climate change. Rip did an amazing job on this bill, and Virginians should be grateful for his hard work.

3. We Decriminalized Marijuana.

We are decriminalizing marijuana in Virginia. It's not the legalization (and regulation) that I've long advocated for, but it's a huge step forward. No longer will we be sending thousands of (primarily Black and Brown) Virginians to prison for marijuana. That is important progress. In fact, I would argue, we have gone 90% of where we need to be.

The bill sets a tiny $25 civil fine for possession of up to an ounce of the plant or products derived from it, including hash and oil concentrates. (A parking ticket costs more than that!) It seals records of past and future convictions. And it prohibits employers and educational institutions from inquiring about violations, with exceptions for law enforcement agencies.

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission has been tasked with studying legalization ahead of the 2021 legislative session. 

My legislation on this (HB301) was incorporated into HB972 the bill by my Alexandria Colleague, the Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring. It was an honor to work with Charniele on legislation that I've been pushing since my first year in office. And her dedicated advocacy saw the bill to final passage.

4. We Banned LGBT Discrimination.

As one of our last acts on Sunday, we passed my bill, HB1049the most comprehensive LGBT+ non-discrimination bill ever introduced in the General Assembly.

I’ve introduced non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity into Virginia Law every single year I've served in office. Finally, Virginia’s Rainbow Communities will have equal rights under the vast majority of Virginia Law: employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, insurance, apprenticeships, banking, and 70+ other areas of the law.

A few small provisions we still have to fix for next year. But 97% of the effort is done with this one bill, which I fully expect the Governor to sign into law.

The bill almost died. Up until the last minute, many Republicans insisted on the right of churches to use Virginia tax money to discriminate against gay and lesbian and bi and trans Virginians. (They also insisted that jobs funded by Virginia taxpayers could also be used to discriminate on the basis of religion and race!) As there was no Senate counterpart, it was my job to get this bill passed, and all the pressure was on me.

But I stood firm. I was not about to move 70+ areas of the law forward while taking a giant step backward. Virginia's contracting provisions are protected by the Governor's Executive Order, and I did not want those protections to be whittled away.

The bill went to conference and eventually passed the House 52-40 and the Senate 26-13

The final House vote on Virginia's comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination bill
My bill was the culmination of decades of my gay-rights activism,
both outside and inside government.

It’s kind of surreal to have your lifelong efforts realized so quickly all in a matter of minutes.

If you are a frequent reader of my newsletters, you will find this one ridiculously short. But it's midnight, and I have to get up at 5:30 am to drive down to Richmond tomorrow. (I'll set delivery of this email for 8 am.)

Rather than sending you one very long newsletter each week -- as I have to do during session -- I'm going to send several newsletters about this historic session in bite-size chunks over the next couple of weeks. Rest assured you will soon learn:

  • A Summary of the Major Accomplishments of the 2020 Session
    (everything from ERA to criminal justice reform to voting rights
    to labor/worker rights and more!)
  • The Fate of All My Bills
    (Mostly good news. Some bad. Too many to list here!)
  • The Inside Scoop on Redistricting
    (The battle goes on to November!)
  • The Budget
    (Good news for the localities I represent and for all of Virginia)
  • More News Articles
  • Pictures
    (including of me presiding in the Speaker's Chair)

So stay tuned! More news is coming!

Thank you again for the honor and privilege to serve you.

Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District