MARK IN THE NEWS
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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 TWO of the MANY successes of the Virginia General Assembly's 2020 legislative session, which adjourned sine die on Thursday, March 12.
REDISTRICTING, BUDGET, AND MORE
Then please stay tuned for PART THREE of my upcoming newsletter, featuring the fate of each of my bills...
I hope you'll take the time to review this and other newsletters. I hope to provide with you a detailed and useful summary you won't find anywhere else.
Major Legislation Passed this Session
Final 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.
Understanding that issues are interconnected, I broke the bills down roughly by issue areas so you can review to the area which interests you most, but I certainly encourage you to read about everything.
The issue areas covered below are:
- Protecting the Vulnerable
- Criminal Justice Reform
- Supporting Local Government
- The Budget
These issues were covered in Part One (sent to you yesterday, March 15):
Building an Economy that Works for All Virginians
Rainbow (LGBT) Rights
If you missed that email, click here to read it.
I copatroned virtually all of the bills described below.
Protecting the Vulnerable
Tyler's Law - Ensuring that a parent's history of domestic violence and child abuse is taken into consideration when determining child custody. (my bill)
Regulating the tying up of pets outdoors. (my bill)
Prohibiting housing discrimination based on source income or someone’s status as a victim of family or domestic abuse.
Allowing the Attorney General to prosecute hate crimes across multiple jurisdictions.
Adding categories of gender, disability, gender identity and sexual orientation to our Hate Crime laws
Creating the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention Fund.
Creating the Virginia sexual assault forensic examiner coordination program to ensure that survivors of sexual violence have access to the appropriate care, including qualified sexual assault nurse examiners.
Increasing the statute of limitations for misdemeanor sexual offenses committed by adults against minors.
Creating the Virginia Food Access Investment Program to help end food deserts in underserved communities.
Requiring that space and equipment for changing babies is included when the Department of General Services develops plans for new state buildings.
Requiring the Department of Emergency Management to develop an emergency response plan to address the needs of individuals with limited English proficiency, disabilities, or other special needs in the event of a disaster.
Criminal Justice Reform
Decriminalizing marijuana possession: $25 civil fine for possession of up to one ounce. Sealing records of past and future convictions. Studying legalization ahead of the 2021 legislative session. (my bill)
I discussed this bill at length in my March 12 Newsletter entitled "A Historic Session is Almost Done." So please click there for much more detail.
Requiring a transparent, written policy with public comment prior to the introduction of police body-worn cameras based on model guidelines developed by the Department of Criminal Justice Services. (my bill)
Repealing the archaic crime of fornication, which is voluntary sexual intercourse between consenting unmarried adults. (my bill)
Increasing the felony larceny threshold to $1,000.
Protecting students from being charged with disorderly conduct if the disorderly conduct occurs on school property - important for reducing the school-to-prison pipeline.
Prohibiting bias-based profiling. Setting up a robust system for collecting and analyzing data around traffic stops and investigatory police-citizen interactions to determine the existence and prevalence of bias-based profiling and complaints alleging use of excessive force.
Increasing from 14 to 16 the minimum age of a juvenile to be tried as an adult for certain felonies other than murder.
Requiring the Board of Collections to review the use of solitary confinement.
Making more people eligible for parole.
Allowing currently incarcerated individuals to earn credit toward paying off fines and costs through community work.
Repealing an unconstitutional state law that allowed police to arrest and jail an individual declared a “habitual drunkard” by a court.
Allowing qualified people to administer Naloxone to people experiencing a life-threatening opioid overdose.
Supporting Local Government
We gave counties the same taxing authority as cities. This will eliminate one of the main constraints on localities that has hurt local governments’ ability to provide services to their residents.
We allowed certain localities to adopt affordable housing dwelling unit ordinances.
The City of Alexandria received $25 million for its combined sewer system repair, with an additional $40 million to come in the next biennium. This was the highest priority for the City, and I was glad to do my part to make it happen.
The City of Alexandria also received $2.4 million to renovate and restore Freedom House, the former headquarters and slave pen of the nation's largest domestic slave traders located at 1315 Duke Street to help become it an internationally renowned museum detailing the history of slavery and dedicated to the memory of the people enslaved there.
A massive transportation package will help us make much needed investments in our transportation infrastructure:
The package also makes major funding commitments to passenger rail and public transit, including improvements to I-81 and a $3.7 billion passenger rail package that includes a new rail bridge across the Potomac River.
The compromise restores $50 million a year to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to compensate for the loss of money for local transportation projects to help repair Metro's deteriorated system. The money would come from increases in the grantor’s tax on deeds, the lodging tax in Northern Virginia for tourists, and a $20 million annual contribution from the state transportation fund.
By allowing Northern Virginia to invest more to its own needs, the whole Commonwealth benefits by reducing competition for limited state transportation dollars distributed through the Smart Scale rating system.
It reduces the annual vehicle registration fee by $10 and eliminates a $5 “walk-in” fee for people who go to Department of Motor Vehicle offices instead of transacting business online or by phone.
It will raise the state gas tax by 5 cents a gallon each year for two years and extend the regional tax (7.6 cents per gallon) to help give localities more control over transportation money. The plan is expected to raise more than $370 million a year in state taxes and $96.5 million in regional taxes by 2024 at a time when gas prices are at historic lows. Past experience has shown in neighboring states with higher gas taxes than Virginia that the price at the pump increases far less than the cost of the tax.
We also required Virginia cities and counties to focus on strategies focused on development around transit, with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through coordination of transportation, housing, and land use planning into their comprehensive plans.
The Most Progressive Budget
in Virginia History
The budget we passed on Thursday includes historic investments in:
$79.8 million provided to keep in-state tuition at the 2019-20 rates in 2020-21.
Includes $69 million over the biennium to implement the G-3 ("Get Skilled, Get a Job, Given Back") initiative, which will provide free community college to qualifying families.
Increases in-state financial aid by $60.6 million.
Increases total funding for K-12 by about $1.4 billion over the biennium.
More than $500,000 for training teachers in Virginia de-escalation techniques to avoid seclusion and restraint (my budget amendment)
Provides $98 million increase for early childhood education.
Increases funding for both school counselors and English Language Learner teachers.
Maintains 40% distribution of Lottery Funds on a per pupil basis to provide flexibility to localities to meet their unique needs.
Includes a floor that ensures that every school division receives at least $200,000.
Provides an additional 1% to At Risk Add On in 2021-2022 that will dramatically help communities like Alexandria, who have a majority of their public-school students with low enough income to receive free or reduced lunch.
Health and Human Resources
Provides $64.8 million over the biennium to increase personal care rates by 5% in 2020-21 and 2% in 2021-22.
Includes $43.4 million to increase developmental disability waiver provider rates.
$34 million to add Medicaid adult dental benefits.
Maintains 1,135 additional Medicaid Developmental Disability Waiver slots and adds $4.1 million to increase the number of waiver slots by 250 in 2021-2022.
Provides $56 million over the biennium to continue the implementation of STEP-VA outpatient, veterans, mobile crisis and peer support services.
Includes more than $50.5 million for community services to transition individuals from state mental health hospitals, including discharge assistance plans, permanent supportive housing and regional initiatives
Provides $60 million over the biennium for the Housing Trust Fund, by far, the largest in Virginia history and a tripling from the prior biennium
$10 million to permanent supportive housing efforts in the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services
$3.3 million each year for eviction prevention and diversion program
Provides $76 million over biennium for the Water Quality Improvement Fund.
Includes $10 million each year for the Virginia Land Conservation Fund.
Provides approximately $18 million in additional funding for staffing and equipment at the Department of Environmental Quality.
Includes $15 million for dam safety in the first year and $10 million in bond funding for oyster restoration efforts.
Package includes $6 million and 11 positions at State Police for the Community Policing Act.
Includes funding for gun violence prevention and intervention grants.
Includes funding a new Public Defender Office in Prince William County, the largest jurisdiction in the Commonwealth that does not have one.
Provides $7.7 million for additional deputy district court clerks from increased civil filing fees and also provides $1 million over the biennium for the Technology Trust Fund
Funds three positions at the Attorney General’s office to ensure compliance with labor law and nondiscrimination legislation such as the bills I introduced that became law, HB1049 and HB1050 (incorporated into SB868).
Increases the allowed retention of consumer protection revolving trust fund to $1.25 million each year and provides $250,000 each year for information technology improvements, such as those necessary to implement my bill HB182, providing for full transparency (streaming and archived video) for the Virginia General Assembly
Slay the gerrymander!
The 2019 constitutional amendment allows extreme gerrymandering by a Republican-appointed body with no guardrails and no appeal.
Because I oppose gerrymandering,
I opposed enshrining it in the Virginia Constitution.
I probably received more email on redistricting than on any other issue. Virtually all of you agreed with me that:
- we should not allow gerrymandering in the 2021 redrawing of district lines, and
- we should amend the Virginia Constitution to disallow future gerrymandering.
Some of you disagreed with me as to the best way to accomplish this.
As you probably know, I've been working hard for months now to design a fair system to prevent gerrymandering in Virginia. My criteria bill (HB1054) set out a mathematical criterion of fairness to objectively disallow gerrymandering (see paragraph 4). My legislation was incorporated into Delegate Price's HB1055, which was passed by both House and Senate and is on its way to the Governor to hopefully be signed into law. Although this version did not include the precise mathematical structure I provided in my original version, it did provide this important principle from my HB1054 in its paragraph 8:
8. A map of districts shall not,
when considered on a statewide basis,
unduly favor or disfavor any political party.
If the bill becomes law, it will be the first clear prohibition of gerrymandering ever to pass the Virginia Legislature. And although, I would have preferred not to use the weasel word "unduly", it is a dramatic step forward. I do not believe there is a single state in American history that has ever redistricted under a legal statewide prohibition to favor any political party. So I was proud to be the first legislator in the country to successfully introduce such a principle into a bill that I hope and expect will become law.
If my bill does become law, any redistricting commission would have to follow it, and gerrymandering would, for the first time in history, become illegal in Virginia.
EXCEPT if a Virginia constitutional amendment allowing gerrymandering supersedes it. Obviously, that's my concern.
I also legislatively proposed two independent nonpartisan and bipartisan commissions to implement criteria that relied neither on the Virginia General Assembly nor on the Virginia Supreme Court to draw the lines. I wrote them so as to satisfy the supporters of the 2019 constitutional amendment.
My first bill (HB1055) tracked the structure of the 2019 proposed Virginia constitutional amendment, without allowing legislative intervention by the Republican-appointed Virginia Supreme Court. I didn't love this commission structure since it strongly favors politicians over citizens, but since OneVirginia2021 and several of my constituents believed in it and claimed it could work, I thought I would give the General Assembly a chance to vote on it. The second structure I proposed (HB1645) was the structure written, proposed, and preferred by OneVirginia2021 in 2019. Neither structure prevailed.
The House passed a different structure for a commission, Delegate Price's HB1256, which I agree was a good one. That bill crossed over to the Senate, which unfortunately defeated it.
I also introduced a constitutional amendment (HJ143) which, I believe, improved even more on the mathematical criterion of fairness designed to objectively prevent gerrymandering. This mathematical provision of fairness was lauded by many of the nation's top anti-gerrymandering political scientists. It also included other important criteria, such as protection of racial minorities, compactness, contiguity, and respect for communities of interest and existing political boundaries. These are the same factors found in my and Delegate Price's redistricting criteria legislation. My proposed constitutional amendment also included OneVirginia2021's preferred design for an independent commission.
The legislation was continued to next year, when constitutional amendments are traditionally considered, although, as you'll read below, Delegate Simon proposed a very similar constitutional amendment on the House Floor at the end of session that was defeated by a narrow margin. I still believe that this constitutional amendment, or one very similar, is the fairest way to redistrict in the future.
Competing with my anti-gerrymandering proposals was the 2019 constitutional amendment, SJ18. You may recall this was Republican Delegate Mark Cole's last-minute proposal at the end of 2019 to rely exclusively on the Virginia Supreme Court to draw the lines, without any guardrails upon the objection of any two lawmakers. It was the fourth amendment to the Saslaw/Barker bill presented to us on the last scheduled day of the 2019 session.
As the surprise proposal did not go through committee, it gave all of us outside the very small drafting group extremely little time to consider it prior to casting a vote on it. I, along with many others, decided to vote for it in the limited time we had to consider it, knowing I would have a full year to consider it carefully before taking the second vote that mattered: the vote I cast this year. Indeed, this mandatory reflection time is why the Virginia Constitution requires two successive legislative votes to approve a constitutional amendment. At the time I voted for the last-minute proposal in 2019, I criticized it publicly and made clear that without much stronger enabling legislation, I would have to vote against it in 2020.
No enabling legislation passed. (And, if you've read my writings on this, you know why I'm not sure such legislation would have been effective even if it had passed.) In any event, without guardrails, it was a pure Republican gerrymander bill, and I along with 85% of House Democrats had to vote against it.
If you've read my writing and speeches on this issue, you already know in detail why I oppose the amendment, which has no protections for communities of color, no protections against gerrymandering, and basically throws the entire process to a body chosen by Republicans: the Virginia Supreme Court. The amendment allows that body to gerrymander Virginia as they please with zero guardrails or transparency or appeal.
Because I've written and discussed my views on this constitutional amendment at length (some would say ad nauseam) in many past newsletters and speeches, I see no reason to repeat the entirety of my arguments here. But if you want to review them, I provide below several ways to do so below:
- his constitutional amendment allowed for extreme gerrymandering by the Republican-appointed Virginia Supreme Court
- with no guardrails and
- no possible appeal.
You may note in the questioning Senator Barker's mentions SB203.
That bill (so-called enacting or enabling legislation) did NOT pass.
So the amendment has no guardrails to prevent gerrymandering.
For example, a special master appointment will not be required.
Click below to hear my opposition to the amendment in committee:
Most Democrats voted against the amendment in committee, but a few joined all Republicans to send it to the House Floor.
On the House Floor, Delegate Simon proposed a substitute constitutional amendment similar to my HJ143 that provided for a truly independent nonpartisan citizens' commission to draw the lines (unlike the proposed constitutional amendment where politicians participate in the commission and choose all the citizens on the panel). Unlike that amendment, Simon's proposal also included voting rights protections and protections for communities of color. Like my constitutional amendment, it created solid map-drawing criteria and included the express gerrymandering prohibition.
As you would expect, I voted in favor of this constitutional amendment to allow a non-partisan independent commission determine Virginia’s redistricting. The strict standards I, along with 46 other Democrats, supported would have ensured racial, partisan, and geographic diversity. Most importantly, our plan disallowed gerrymandering, with a requirement that the statewide map not favor either political party. While Simon's constitutional amendment, like my HJ143, would not have taken effect until 2022, we also voted out HB1256 to do exactly the same thing in 2021.
Unfortunately, the substitute failed to pass. It failed 47-53. Forty-seven (85%) of House Democrats voted for it. Eight House Democrats (15%) voted against it. So it failed.
Next up was the vote on the constitutional amendment.
I voted no, and I explained my reasoning why on the House Floor:
I was not the only one fighting this irreparably flawed amendment.
Numerous colleagues - Delegates Cia Price, Don Scott, Lashrecse Aird, Danica Roem, Lee Carter, Wendy Gooditis, and more, all of whom are on the record supporting fair redistricting - spoke eloquently about the need to vote against the amendment and pass something better. Blue Virginia did an excellent job of compiling different speeches and statements on the amendment. I encourage you to watch every single one.
For reasons I've described at length here and elsewhere, I could not support the constitutional amendment sent to us at the eleventh hour last year. We distrusted the Republican proposal, because the Republicans last year -- and for more than two decades prior -- had rejected every single one of the dozen or so proposals we supported for independent redistricting.
We had no choice but to vote for the hastily-drawn proposal last year, knowing we would have a full year to consider it and it was the only option on the table at the time. As I explained to the Richmond Times Dispatch.
Having had the time to examine that proposal for a year, I had to reject it as I promised I would. Simply put, the constitutional proposal would put redistricting once again in the hands of lawmakers. But even worse, upon the objection of two lawmakers, the amendment would allow extensive gerrymandering entirely by a Republican-chosen body: the Virginia Supreme Court. Even if the other six legislators and eight citizens on the commission disagreed, Virginia could be extensively gerrymandered with no appeal to any other body. And there was no protection in the amendment for the diverse communities that make up Virginia and no guardrails for the Supreme Court to follow at all. While some claimed that an enabling law would control the constitution (which is usually superior to ordinary law), the enabling law was never passed. And even if it were to pass one day, it could be changed at the whim of a new majority.
In sum, because I oppose gerrymandering, I had to oppose the constitutional amendment that would enshrine gerrymandering into our Constitution. And I urge Virginians to vote against it this fall. We should all want independent districting, a non-partisan independent body of citizens or special masters drawing lines under strict guidelines to guarantee fairness. If Virginia voters reject the amendment this fall, I would enthusiastically support such a proposal in 2021.
If you care about fair elections and representative democracy, I ask you to vote NO on this ballot measure in November.
I understand that some may disagree with me when I say that the commission created by SJ18 is far from independent.
But, even OneVirginia2021, in a now-deleted tweet, agreed that if the measure (SJ18) became enshrined in the Virginia Constitution, Virginia would still not have a "truly independent redistricting commission."
They want us to wait until 2031. But I don't want to risk waiting. I say let's have a truly independent redistricting commission in 2021.
Unfortunately, the work for fair redistricting continues, and indeed, just got a little harder.
I implore you to vote NO this November and stop this sham from being enshrined into our Constitution.
Thank you to my constituents, my supporters, and my team.
Thank you for continuing to believe in me and support me. I hope you are as pleased as I am about the results of the historic 2020 legislation session, even if you didn't agree with every vote I cast and even if you, like me, wish we had gone a bit farther.
In my next newsletter -- Part Three, and the last one you'll receive from me for awhile -- I will detail what happened to each and every one of my bills. I had many successes and many not-yet-successes, which include policy proposals I will continue to fight for in 2021 and years to come.
Finally, I want to extend my deepest gratitude to my legislative team for their very hard work this session. They worked long hours to help me advocate for the people of the 45th House District and the entire Commonwealth. My successes are the successes of my entire team's, and my team's successes are successes for the people of the 45th District and the people of Virginia.
Not pictured below, unfortunately, are our wonderful Administrative Assistant, Ginette Bellefeuille, and our Health Policy Advisor, Liz Ghandakly. Ginette helped keep us organized and on schedule throughout session. She also endured a lot of the abusive and harassing calls that our office received as we fought for important but controversial measures like my bills to regulate assault weapons and join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. She was a rock throughout the last few months and I really hope to have her back as part of the team again next year.
Liz is a constituent of ours and led the analysis of all healthcare policy bills that came before me as a member of the Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee. Her perspective as a lawyer pursuing her medical degree was invaluable.
Thank you to my Intern Danny Anderson, an Alexandria native in his Freshman year at Richmond University.
Thank you to my Intern Sajya Abdul, who is wrapping up her Senior year at Virginia Commonwealth University (and will soon be looking for a job!).
Thank you to my Legislative Counsel Snapper Tams, who is joining the reform-focused office of Loudoun County Commonwealth's Attorney Buta Biberaj as an Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney. Snapper was with me many a very late night, as we joked -- at 10 pm, 11 pm, and midnight -- about whether he or I would tuck tail and go home first.
And thank you to my Chief of Staff Jacob Weinberg, my only full-time employee. Most of you have met Jake and know how hard he works for me all year round.
The work simply doesn't happen without devoted public servants like the people on this team.
Thank you to Danny, Jacob, Sajya, and Snapper
for all their hard work this session.
Will You Help?
We have accomplished a tremendous amount of good over the past two months. Virginians across the Commonwealth will soon start to see the positive impacts of the legislation we passed this session.
But of course, the work continues.
And that work takes support.
Please chip in whatever you can -- $25 (or $50, or $100, or more) today to help make sure we can push for progress for the rest of 2020 and beyond.
Considering the scope of transformation we are bringing to Virginia, the House Republicans will be going all out to court their wealthy donors in the lead up to our 2021 elections.
Help us counter the right-wing cash machine by donating today.
I really appreciate your support.
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