MARK IN THE NEWS
Virginia Democrats reflect on historic General Assembly session
Chair, Public Safety
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Health, Welfare, & Institutions
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Alexandria, VA 22314
Perhaps the only advantage of a quarantine is it gives you more time to read my newsletters...
So today, I proudly share with you PART ONE of the MANY successes of the Virginia General Assembly's 2020 legislative session, which adjourned sine die on Thursday, March 12.
PROMISES MADE, PROMISES KEPT
There's a ton of information in this newsletter. So much that I again ran out of space for the email client! So this is just Part One.
Then please stay tuned for my upcoming newsletters, featuring:
- Part Two (More 2020 Overview, incl. Redistricting & Budget)
- Part Three (The Fate of All My Bills)
The Virginia House of Delegates will meet one last time on April 22 for a one-day session to vote on the Governor's amendments and vetoes.
Barring special session, that's it for the year! But we certainly got a lot accomplished in our short 9-week session.
I hope you'll take the time to review this and upcoming newsletters. I hope to provide with you a detailed and useful summary you won't find anywhere else.
Major Legislation Passed this Session
Finally Tally: 1351 Bills!
The 2020 Virginia General Assembly addressed a wide variety of progressive priorities that had stagnated in the more than a quarter-century since Virginia Democrats were last in power.
We examined more than 3000 bills this session (a new record) and passed a remarkable 1351 (also a new record). 385 bills were carried over into next year, and 285 bills were consolidated with others.
We passed legislation that will make Virginia more prosperous, healthier, more inclusive, and more equitable. I can't possibly detail all 1,351 bills we approved, but I can provide below the highlights of substantial major legislation we approved and I supported. There's a lot of it!
Understanding that issues are interconnected, I broke the bills down roughly by issue areas so you can go right to the area which most interests you, but I certainly encourage you to read about everything.
The issue areas covered below are:
- Strengthening Democracy
- Gun Regulation
- Building an Economy that Works for All Virginians
- Health Care
- Fighting Racism
- Rainbow (LGBT) Rights
- Women's Rights
- Immigrant Rights
And then I ran out of room. So I'll have to save for Part Two
- Protecting the Vulnerable
- Criminal Justice Reform
- Supporting Local Government
- The Budget
Tune in tomorrow for Part Two!
I copatroned virtually all of the bills described below.
No-excuse absentee voting and in-person absentee voting extended at localities' discretion up to 45 days before an election.
Same-day voter registration.
Automatic voter registration (a bill I've offered in the past)
Replacing Lee-Jackson Day with Election Day as a state holiday.
Allowing people to sign up as permanent absentee voters. This will make it easier for people serving abroad in the armed forces to vote.
Pre-paid postage on mail-in absentee ballot forms.
Allowing localities to create a Ranked Choice Voting pilot program for their local elections.
Repealing onerous photo ID requirements designed to make it harder for people to vote. (my bill)
Requiring voter-verifiable paper ballots. (my bill)
Requiring fair and transparent recount procedures, closing a loophole that allowed the GOP to rig the 2017 Shelly Simonds recount (my bill)
Requiring a special election after a tie vote, rather than drawing names out of a bowl. (my bill)
Setting clear and strong criteria for the drawing of congressional and state legislative districts. (my bill)
Regulation to Reduce Gun Violence
We passed 7 of the 8 bills on the Governor’s legislative agenda to prevent gun violence. The only one that did not succeed this year was the toughest one: my bill to regulate and ban future purchases of assault weapons and to ban possession of high-capacity magazines. It passed the House but was continued to next year in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
I do think my bill served its purpose, though, in moving the Overton Window on this issue. At the beginning of session, some Democratic Senators were openly talking about passing only 3 gun bills, 4 at the most. The fact that we were able to pass 7 out of 8 is, I think, largely due to the ferocity with which the assault weapons bill (supported by 57% of Virginians) drew focus away from the other more popular bills, like background checks (supported by 90+% of Virginians).
The 2020 legislative gun-violence-prevention package was the most far-reaching in Virginia history. And we should celebrate that, although, in my view, it clearly did not go far enough. Too many of these gun bills were watered down in the Senate.
I will explain how the Senate watered each bill down below.
My hope is that the Governor amends these bills to strengthen them back to their introduced versions, which largely passed the House unscathed. The seven Governor's bills we passed on guns were:
1. Universal background checks - Everyone should undergo a background check before purchasing a gun. (a bill I've offered in the past)
The Senate watered down this bill with a loophole to allow people to give away (but at least not sell) guns to criminals and other dangerous people without a background check.
I think all guns transferred should have a background check: not just guns sold. Please help me persuade the Governor and the Senate that it's still dangerous to give away guns to criminals. It's not only sales that are the problem.
2. Gun violence protective orders - to allow law enforcement and courts, after extensive due process, to stop incipient violence and prevent impending suicides. (a bill I've worked on in the past)
The Senate weakened this bill, too, by requiring police, after getting a court order to confiscate someone's weapons, to ask them to hand over their guns, and, if they refuse, to go back to get a second order prior to physically confiscating the weapons.
I think this presents too great a danger to police in that it gives a dangerous person disobeying a court order more time to prepare to ambush police they know are coming back. Unfortunately, it's the best version the Senate would allow.
3. Allowed localities to enact firearms ordinances that are stricter than state law, including the ability to regulate firearms in municipal buildings, libraries, parks and at permitted events. (a bill I've offered in the past) Although this was watered down too much for my liking, it should still be able to prevent jerks with assault weapons from being legally able once again to terrorize the Old Town Farmers Market and thugs threatening elected officials (like me) by showing up in parks outside our homes with assault weapons.
The bill provides good authority, but I would strengthen it. I just think Alexandria and other urban localities should have plenary authority over guns in our streets. There is no hunting allowed within our cities, and no one needs an assault weapon in the streets. But again, this is the strongest the Senate has allowed so far. I will encourage the Governor to draft amendments to make it stronger.
4. One gun a month reinstatement, which would dramatically restrict illegal gun trafficking, if it weren't for the Senate loophole that exempts concealed carry holders.
The Senate exception swamps the bill, because concealed carry permits are more easily obtained in Virginia than cigarettes. Under current law, you just have to pass a 10-question multiple-choice test where the answers are provided to you. We did at least strengthen background checks by requiring in-person rather than online instruction starting in 2021. I would remove the Senate exception.
5. Protections for children - raising the penalty from a class 3 to a class 1 misdemeanor for anyone who recklessly leaves a loaded gun unsecured so as to endanger the life of a child under the age of 14.
The House version would have made it a felony to recklessly leave a loaded gun unsecured so as to endanger the life of any child under the age of 18. Again the Senate watered the legislation down too far in my view but not quite so far as to make it meaningless.
6. Requirement to report lost or stolen guns to the police within 48 hours of discovering the firearm being missing -- which any responsible gun owners should do anyway, to prevent gun trafficking and criminal access to firearms.
The Senate did no major damage to this bill.
7. 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.
The Senate did no damage to this bill.
I tried to pass a more comprehensive measure to ban possession of firearms from those convicted of domestic violence, but that measure was continued to 2021. (More on all my bills in an up-coming newsletter.)
As noted above, we also banned online training to get concealed-carry permits. No more 10-question multiple choice tests with answers available! Future training to get these permits must be done in person. I was disappointed the Senate insisted on allowing the NRA to provide the training.
We also approved legislation that we could never get through a Republican majority: exempting gun safe purchases from sales tax. It may be hard to believe it took a Democratic majority to enact this. But it is sadly true that the prior Republican majorities resisted any action to improve gun safety, even when it provided a tax cut for gun owners!
Finally, we will now make sure parents get at least 24 hours’ prior notice of lock-down drills. (Kindergarten students’ parents will get at least five school days’ notice, and parents can opt their child out of them.)
The Virginia Clean Economy Act is one of the most ambitious energy policies in the country. This legislation creates a plan to reach zero carbon emissions by 2045. Click here to learn more about the bill and how it came to be passed. I discussed this bill at length in my March 12 Newsletter entitled "A Historic Session is Almost Done." So please go there for more detail.
The Solar Freedom Act removed barriers to distributed-generation solar energy in Virginia, paving the way for more clean-energy jobs and customer-owned solar in Virginia. We passed numerous bills that will increase access to and promote the use of net energy metering, distributed and community solar, and other renewable energy.
Investments in offshore wind.
Creating the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice.
Banning offshore drilling on the state’s coast and prohibiting state endorsement of offshore gas or oil developments in federal waters.
Banning hydraulic fracturing (fracking) east of I-95.
Establishing a carbon cap and trade program to comply with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Creating the Local Food and Farming Infrastructure Fund and Grant Program to support local food production and sustainable farming.
Requiring certain cities to promote transit-oriented development for the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Requiring the Department of Environmental Quality to compile and maintain a Hazardous Waste Site Inventory to be published and updated annually.
Requiring the State Corporation Commission to determine when electric utilities should retire coal or gas-fired electric generation facilities. This bill also protects ratepayers from shouldering an undue financial burden for power plant retirements.
Allowing localities to impose 5-cent fees on plastic bags for patrons at grocery, convenience, and drug stores, with some exemptions.
Creating the Plastic Waste Pollution Prevention Advisory Council to study and make recommendations regarding plastic pollution problems in the Commonwealth, with the mission of eliminating plastic waste and contributing to the achievement of plastics packaging circular economy industry standards
Building an Economy that Works for All Virginians
Raising the minimum wage for the first time in more than a decade. Virginia's minimum wage will be $9.50 an hour by January 1, 2021, $11 an hour in 2022, and $12 an hour in 2023. With another vote in 2024, it can go up to $13.50 in 2025 and $15 by 2026. Learn more by clicking here.
I discussed this bill at length in my March 12 Newsletter entitled "A Historic Session is Almost Done." So please go there for much more detail. There's also an extensive debate on the issue on my Facebook page. Feel free to join in and take on the Internet trolls from across the nation and Virginia who hate the minimum wage!
Reining in predatory lenders in a variety of ways, including limiting the interest on open-end credit loans to no higher than 36% per annum. (my bill)
Allowing public sector workers to unionize and collectively bargain for better wages and benefits. Localities will be able to decide for themselves whether or not to recognize these unions, which I fully expect the jurisdictions I represent -- Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax -- to do. (my bill)
Allowing Project Labor Agreements in public procurement projects to help create a better work product and protect workers.
Requiring contractors and subcontractors under any public contract with a state agency for public works to provide a prevailing wage.
Strengthening prohibitions on the misclassification of workers, authorizing investigations of employers underpaying workers and civil actions.
Prohibiting an employer from retaliating against an employee because the employee has sought redress for failure to pay wages.
Prohibiting an employer from delaying a worker’s compensation claim more than 30 days.
Ending the practice of surprise-billing, whereby patients at a hospital covered by their insurance company could be charged by a provider outside their insurance with surprisingly higher rates (my bill)
Capping insulin copays at no more than $50 per month. Over 800,000 Virginians adults have diabetes.
Establishing the Virginia Health Benefit Exchange so that Virginia residents who purchase individual health plans can shop for coverage via the state marketplace. This will reduce overhead and premiums for residents.
Requiring training of new teachers on de-escalation techniques to prevent seclusion and restraint and reduce the school-to-prison pipeline (my bill)
The Student Loans Borrowers Bill of Rights, extending basic consumer protections to borrowers and requiring loan servicers to be licensed like similar financial providers.
Requiring that free menstrual supplies be available for students in the bathrooms of every public middle, and high school in Virginia, and at elementary schools as deemed necessary.
Requiring Virginia to annually collect, report, and publish data related to incidents involving school resource officers and students.
Requiring a more robust school counselor to student ratio at public schools, starting the 2020-2021 school year. For elementary schools, one full-time counselor per 375 students; in middle schools, one per 325 students; high schools, one per 300.
Requiring local school boards and the Board of Education to implement fair and equitable dress code policies free from subjective terminology that too-frequently discriminates against girls of color. Prohibiting staff from physically enforcing dress codes.
Repealing the law that allows for public school teachers to be fired for just one unsatisfactory performance evaluation.
Creating commission to consider replacement of Robert E. Lee statue from the US Capitol (my bill)
Authorizing cities and counties to remove Confederate monuments from their property and/or to contextualize them. The statues can’t be destroyed, and local governments must offer them to “any museum, historical society, government, or military battlefield". Requires notice and a public hearing and allows for local referendum if desired. (a bill I've offered in the past and I made sure to include Alexandria's statue in)
Banning hair discrimination. Hair discrimination is racial discrimination when “traits historically associated with race, including hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists” are prohibited.
Repealing numerous arcane, Jim Crow-era laws from the Code. For example, my HB180 removes questions about race from marriage licenses and divorce applications (my bill), and HB973 removes references to school segregation.
Rainbow (LGBT) Rights
My comprehensive bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to over 70+ nondiscrimination statutes in the Virginia code. Virginia’s Rainbow Communities will finally have equal rights in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, insurance, apprenticeships, banking, and 70+ other areas of law. (my bill) I discussed this bill at length in my March 12 Newsletter entitled "A Historic Session is Almost Done." So please go there for much more detail.
The Virginia Values Act, increasing remedies for individuals to sue over alleged discrimination in employment and public accommodations. (my bill)
Banning the harmful and controversial practice of “conversion therapy” for minors, which attempts to forcibly change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Requiring the Department of Education to develop model policies for schools on how to address common issues involving transgender students to ensure fair and respectful treatment in time for the 2021-2022 school year.
Repealing the statutory prohibition on same-sex marriages and civil unions
Creating a new option for people to mark their sex as “non-binary” on applications for driver’s licenses or special identification cards.
We became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
Removing politically-motivated medically-unnecessarily obstacles designed to restrict patients from receiving reproductive healthcare and abortion, such as ultrasounds, 24-hour delay, counseling on alternatives, and unnecessary regulation of abortion clinics as hospitals.
Requiring the Board of Medicine to encourage health practitioners to screen patients for prenatal and postnatal depression
Requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees and barring employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees (or applicants) on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
If you are one of the few intrepid folks who actually reads every word of this newsletter, please let me know what you thought.
Drivers’ privilege cards for qualifying undocumented immigrants.
In-state tuition for qualifying undocumented immigrants and refugees.
Repealing requirements that local police report undocumented immigrants to federal immigration enforcement and making disclosure permissive in misdemeanor cases. (my bill)
Prohibiting law-enforcement officers from inquiring into the immigration status of a person who is a victim of or witness to a crime.
Creating the Office of New Americans.
And then I ran out of room.
So stay tuned for:
- Protecting the Vulnerable
- Criminal Justice Reform
- Supporting Local Government
- The Budget
Believe it or not, all of this is just the highlights!!!
Suffice it to say it was an extremely busy and productive session.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part Two of our legislative accomplishments and, soon to follow, Part Three: The Fate of All My Bills...
Can you chip in a few bucks?
I thank you again for the honor and privilege of representing you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District