Hopefully, you are well and taking precautions to avoid the Covid-19 virus. I've now sent out several emails detailing how to protect yourself and others from the pandemic that you can find on my website at MarkforDelegate.com
We must all keep in mind, as we practice social distancing over the next few weeks, that we are fighting to save not just our own lives but the lives of everyone else in our community. Banning together in times of crisis to look out for the vulnerable people among us is among our best traditions.
We are all our brothers' keepers and our sisters' keepers.
Hopefully, by now, you've digested the lengthy emails I already sent you on the one hundred or so of the most important bills we passed during our two-month long session, along with a detailed discussion of redistricting and the budget. If not, you can find them at MarkforDelegate.com.
Now on to my long-awaited Part Three of my Post-Session Round-Up: The Fate of My Bills.
It will almost certainly be the longest email I send you in 2020. But hey, lots of good reading for when you're bored and quarantined!
But first a quick digression into How to Keep Score.
After session, a number of websites rate lawmaker effectiveness based on the batting averages in their bills. And it raises the question of how best to tell how effective a lawmaker is. If you don't care about "how to keep score," just scroll down to The Fate of My Bills.
1. Batting Average: By one measure, a legislator's effectiveness should be based on the percentage of bills they propose that are passed. This is the measure used most often, probably because it's the easiest one to calculate. By this measure, former Speaker Kirk Cox — who introduced exactly one and only one bill (increasing tax-deductible limit on crime stopper rewards) — became the most effective legislator in Virginia(!) when that bill passed.
To "win" by this measure, a legislator, rather than trying to do something that would dramatically change Virginian's lives for the better should introduce as few bills as possible — preferably one — and the bill should do as little as possible so that it can easily pass. But what has such a legislator, with a 100% win by that metric, actually done? Very little to help Virginians. Cox's bill will give a very small number of people a tiny tax benefit. But because he introduced only one uncontroversial bill and got it passed, he's put at the top of the charts by some pundits.
2. A more appropriate measure would be Total Bills Passed. Generally speaking, the greater number of legislator's bills that become law, the more that legislator changes Virginia. All bills being equal, the legislator that introduces 50 bills and passes 5 helps more Virginians than the legislator who introduces 4 bills and passes 4. I introduced 47 bills this session, the second-most of all 100 delegates. That created a lot more work for me during session but also greater opportunity for success. I was successful on 23 of them.
3. But, of course, all bills are not created equal. It matters even more What Kind of Bills Pass. A very large number of our bills do nothing but create some commission or another to study important issues. Of course, a good legislator can usually convene stakeholders to study issues without needing legislation to do so. So in my opinion, it's not just total bills but the type of bills that should count. I think bills that do something should "count" more in determining an effective legislator than bills that convene people together to study something. In the 100 to 200 bills I've introduced in my five years in office, I have introduced a bill for a study just one time (rural broadband in 2017). To be clear, there's absolutely nothing wrong with putting in a bill to study an issue. Sometimes good studies lead to good bills later on. But I personally think it's the bills that make a meaningful difference in Virginians' lives that should "count" most. There are big bills that change a lot and little ones that change a little.
4. Some measures Exclude Bills Incorporated into other bills from their "success ratios." I've never understood this. When two similar House bills become law — one incorporated into another — some would exclude the incorporated bill from the tally of success. But when an identical House and Senate bill become law, both bills would be included. That arbitrary distinction never made sense to me. If I introduce an identical, or slightly different, measure from another delegate, and we work together to come up with the best solution, why should anyone care which patron's name is on the bill? The goal should be to come up with the best legislation. And rather than fight with a colleague over whose name should be on the bill, I'd rather to fight so that the best legislation comes forward. In fact, this cycle, I have usually agreed to incorporate my similar bills into other delegates' bills, so long as that delegate made sure the "policy" in my original bill prevails.
I feel my goal should always be to make the best policies into law. Not the most laws in my name. So I include in the tally of successes below all of my bills that became law in one form or another. To me, it's less important who carries a bill and far more important what the bill does. If the substance of my bill becomes law, that's a win for all Virginians that are made better off from the policy I proposed.
5. Should we discount risk-taking? Some measures of legislative success reward the easy stuff that passes — like creating a commission to study an issue — and penalize the high-profile bills that move the conversation along but ultimately don't become law this year. I worked very hard this year on three high-profile issues that did not succeed: regulation of assault weapons, national popular vote, and redistricting. If I only cared about a facile criterion of success, I would never have undertaken any of these three tough issues. Indeed, other colleagues of mine, seeing these issues as sure losers, backed out of promises to introduce them.
But I think moving the Overton Window matters. On assault weapons, the controversy surrounding my very hard fight for this bill (which ultimately passed the House but not the Senate) ultimately pushed the Senate to pass the other seven of the Governor's gun bills, even though senators had said pre-session they would only pass three or four of them.
On National Popular Vote, I changed the minds of a good number of my colleagues through individual conversations and achieved a commitment by the Senate Privileges & Elections Committee Chair to consider the legislation in 2020 following the November Elections.
And on redistricting, while we failed to stop the flawed constitutional amendment from passing, I believe my work and that of others changed the conversation around this issue, from the amendment being considered a "sure uncontroversial thing" to most understanding it to be "seriously flawed" and a "conduit for gerrymandering." Perhaps our efforts will stymie the amendment at the November ballot box. Perhaps not. But I don't believe in not fighting battles because they are hard. In fact, I think the hardest battles are probably those the most worth fighting for.
6. My Test: By some of the other tests — which reward not taking the initiative, not introducing important bills, being selfish about getting credit, and not taking risks — my legislative record is not as successful as that of others. But this is not a game. My goal is not to be more "legislatively successful" by some arbitrary, distorted criteria than some other legislator. By my own criterion — doing the most good for the greatest number of Virginians on things most important to their lives and working collaboratively with my colleagues to do it — I considered the 2020 Session a great success: for myself, for my colleagues, for the entire House Democratic Caucus, and for Virginia.
In the end, because I strongly believe in transparency, I'm sharing it all with you in great detail.
it's really not for me to judge. It's for you to judge.
After all, my constituents are my bosses.
So please review the fate of all of my 47 bills I introduced this session in detail.
The Fate of My Bills
23 of My Bills Passed the General Assembly
It may be hard to read the fine print on these 23 binders,
but each of them represents a bill I introduced
that passed the General Assembly in one form or another.
Most await the Governor's signature.
SIX Have Already Been Signed
by the Governor into Law
The following bills of mine passed out of the General Assembly and have already been signed by the Governor into law.
1. HB246, Virginia's first state law on the use of body-worn cameras by law enforcement, requires local law enforcement to adopt a transparent, written policy with public comment prior to implementation based on model guidelines developed by the Department of Criminal Justice Services.
It passed the House 62-38. It passed the Senate 36-3.
The bill was signed into law by the Governor on March 4.
This was the fifth year in a row I had introduced this legislation. Every year under Republican rule, it died in subcommittee. But persistence paid off.
Here's a press report on the new law, which goes into effect on July 1.
2. HB245, repealing the crime of fornication (consensual sexual activity between unmarried adults), passed the House 91-7. It passed the Senate unanimously.
The bill was signed into law by the Governor on March 4.
This was the second time I had introduced this bill. It died in subcommittee in 2018. Here's a press report on the new law, which goes into effect on July 1. And here's a CNN report on the bill when it passed the House.
3. My HB329, requiring Virginia eviction notices served on residential tenants to include contact information for legal aid services, died in committee because it was considered too similar to HB519, introduced by the Chair of the General Laws Committee, Delegate Bulova. But that's ok. His bill, requiring such information on eviction notices for tenants receiving government assistance, was almost as good as mine, which required it for all residential tenants. I definitely consider this a win for the principles embodied in my legislation and, more importantly, for struggling tenants facing eviction! The bill passed the House 78-21 and the Senate unanimously. It was signed by the Governor into law on March 6.
4. HB180, removing requirements that parties declare their race on marriage licenses and divorce petitions, passed both House and Senate unanimously and was signed by the Governor into law on March 10.
In my October 2019 newsletter, I enclosed a Richmond Times Dispatch article on the racial requirement and why I was determined to remove it from the law. I predicted this bill would pass unanimously in September, and it did!
5. HB179, closing a loophole that allowed the GOP to rig the 2017 Shelly Simonds recount, was a bill I first introduced in 2018 but died in subcommittee. It passed both House and Senate unanimously this session and was signed by the Governor into law on March 11.
HB 179 requires recounts to occur only once. This prevents the unfairness of one party rifling through the ballots to secretly "discover" a contested vote after the recount of all votes is completed. In 2017, Virginia Republicans used this loophole in the law to "find a discarded vote" that would change Shelly Simonds' one-vote 2017 victory into a tie that she would ultimately lose when the wrong name was pulled out of a bowl.
Delegate Simonds, who won her election in 2019 beyond the margin of cheating, joined me as chief copatron of the legislation.
Image Right: Standing with (then-candidate, now Delegate) Shelly Simonds at a fundraiser in Alexandria prior to her 2019 election victory. Had HB179 been law in 2017, she would have been a delegate two years earlier...and Republicans would not have controlled the House of Delegates.
6. HB1053, requiring voter-verified paper ballots, passed both House and Senate unanimously and was signed by the Governor into law on March 11.
I had been fighting to require all ballots in Virginia to be voter-verified paper ballots since my first year in office, because even then, I was afraid of hacked machines secretly and improperly tallying the vote. I was very pleased to see this bill finally be signed into law.
And One Bill Will Become "Law"
Without the Governor
7. HB182 requires streaming and archiving of all House subcommittee proceedings to bring what happens there to public light and scrutiny. As Founder and Chair of the Virginia Transparency Caucus, over a five-year period of advocacy, we brought streaming and archiving to the House and Senate floor and committee proceedings. Because of our efforts (which I led), bills can no longer be killed in committee or subcommittee without a recorded vote doing so. But due to the recalcitrance of the former Republican House Speaker, House subcommittees were not streamed and recorded under his leadership.
This year, at my insistence, every House subcommittee held in a room that contained a camera was streamed and archived. And HB182 was brought to finish the job. I'm pleased to announce it achieved its purpose. I received an express promise from both the Speaker of the House and the Clerk of the House that all House committees and subcommittees will stream and archive their proceedings beginning in the 2021 Session, through a change in the House Rules.
I am thrilled to finally realize our five-year goal of full transparency.
Some may ask why use the rules, which can change from year to year, and not put the measure permanently into law? It's a fair point, and certainly I would have preferred putting the measure into law. But rather than fight for perfection, I decided to "take the win." After all, once you have full transparency, it's virtually impossible to move backward away from it. I believe the fear of a public outcry at the prospect of turning off the cameras would effectively prevent such a travesty from ever taking place. So yes, I firmly put this in the win column.
ln fact, my commitment to transparency may be the single way I have most transformed the Virginia General Assembly in my time in Richmond!
Sixteen of my bills await the Governor's approval.
Sixteen of my bills passed both House and Senate and are sitting on the Governor's desk for him to sign, veto, or amend prior to our reconvene session on Wednesday, April 22.
Obviously, I hope he'll sign all of them.
Or amend them to make them stronger/better!
If you want to support any of my legislation, please contact the Governor.
If you want the Governor to improve legislation to make it even better/stronger,
please write him as well. I'll provide some suggestions below that you can and should take to him, if you agree with me.
There is zero harm done when the Governor amends a bill to make it stronger/better/more progressive.
a) the Virginia General Assembly will pass the Governor's suggestion and the law will end up stronger/better than it was proposed (biggest win!) or
b) the legislature will reject the Governor's suggestion, and the Governor can still sign the original legislation (still a big win).
My Three Toughest Bills Came Out of Conference
Let's begin with the three bills I took to conference. Bills go to conference when the House and Senate cannot agree on the same version of the bill. For bills I introduced, I was in charge of conference negotiations for the House. For bills of mine incorporated into other delegates' bills, those delegates were in charge, but I closely watched what was happening to make sure, if at all possible, that aspects of each bill I originally proposed were included in the final product.
All three bills were extremely important to me. I had introduced the first two bills listed (along with the body-cameras bill) every year of every one of the five sessions I've served. I was determined to finally get them across the line.
8. HB1049 is the most comprehensive LGBT+ non-discrimination bill ever introduced in the General Assembly. And it's about to become law. The bill prohibits non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity throughout Virginia law. I went through every single provision of the Virginia code that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin, or disability. And I added protections for the Rainbow Community. Those protections include: employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, insurance, apprenticeships, banking, and much, much more. More than sixty sections of the Code were improved in this 38-page bill.
The bill originally passed the House 60-38 and the Senate 24-14. (All no's were Republican). But there was a dramatic difference between the House and Senate versions. The House bill, my original version, prohibited anti-LGBT discrimination throughout the Code. The Senate added a version to allow discrimination with regard to Virginia government contracts with religious institutions. That's right. The Senate wanted to add religious discrimination to the Virginia Code on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity with respect to religious institutions employing people using Virginia taxpayer money. The idea that Virginia taxpayer funds could be used for employment discrimination — not just anti-gay but racial and religious discrimination as well! — was anathema to me.
We negotiated for several days. Finally, I agreed not to modify Virginia's contracting sections of the law. There's a Governor's Executive Order that already protects the LGBT community from discrimination with regard to government contracts. So rather than going 66 steps forward and 1 step backward, I decided just to take that one step outside of the bill.
But I will be coming back. As with the adoption bill I described at the very bottom below (HB1051), I intend to come back and fight the fight to exclude state-sponsored religious, racial, and anti-gay discrimination. It's a bit of an uphill battle, but I don't see why any Democrat would ever support forcing taxpayers to pay for a job that was forbidden to them due to religious bigotry.
The final conference report passed the House 52-40 and the Senate 26-13.
We still have to fix these provisions for next year. But 97% of the effort is done in a bill I fully expect the Governor to sign into Law.
It’s kind of surreal to have lifelong efforts realized so quickly all in a matter of minutes. The day this passed was a glorious day. And not one I’ll soon forget. I even took a picture of the vote board the moment it passed...
Please write the Governor and encourage him to sign HB1049 into law.
Please also ask him to strengthen the legislation by adding government contracting to it, with no exception for religious institutions. Religious institutions can discriminate all they want with their own money. But when they are using Virginia taxpayer money to hire people for taxpayer-funded jobs, they shouldn't discriminate against anyone. No one's tax dollars should be used to support bigotry!
9. HB861, "Tyler's Law," my bill to require that courts take into consideration a parent's history of domestic violence and child abuse when making child custody determinations, passed both chambers unanimously. But the Senate passed a weaker version of the bill than I had originally introduced. The Senate wanted to include child abuse but exclude domestic violence from consideration. I rejected their amendment and took the bill to conference.
In conference, I stood firm in my belief that a domestic abuser is a bad parent, even if that abuse is directed toward an intimate partner and not the child. (In Tyler's case, his dad beat both him and his prior girlfriends, but Tyler was too afraid to tell his mom about his father beating him, and the court refused to consider evidence Tyler's dad had committed several serious cases of domestic violence in prior relationships.)
In negotiations, Senator Surovell finally agreed to consider domestic abuse but then wanted the court to only look back two years. Again, I stood firm and negotiated a ten-year look back for any abuse or act of violence from a parent. I just don't think violent people make good parents, and I think a court should consider that factor in custody decisions. This compromise won the day. The conference report then passed both House and Senate unanimously.
For five years under Republican rule, this bill had died in committee. But under Democratic control, my persistence finally paid off. Once signed into law by the Governor, it will go into effect on July 1.
If you know my personal story, you know why I had to fight like hell for this legislation.
10. HB1552 limits inhumane tethering (the outdoor tying up) of pets. It originally passed the House 64-33 and the Senate 19-17. The House bill which I wrote protected animals from severe weather and predators and ensured they were well equipped and suited for their outdoor environment (such as having sufficient shelter and food). It also allowed localities the option to make more stringent regulations. A Senate companion bill sponsored by Senator John Bell limited outdoor tethering based on temperature and had an exception for agricultural animals.
Senator Bell and I convened a stakeholders' group. We included my fellow Delegates Democrat Wendy Gooditis and Republican Matt Farris, because I knew they both represented rural areas. We also included animal control officers, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), the Attorney General's Office, and folks from local humane organizations. We came up with a fantastic compromise, one I sincerely believe was better than either the bill that originally passed the House or the one that originally passed the Senate.
The final version of HB1552 prohibits tethering animals outside during severe weather/storm warnings or when it is below 32 or above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, but it gives animal control officers discretion to determine if the animal is "safe from predators and well suited and well equipped to tolerate its environment." Animal control officers wanted discretion to be able to take into account the differences among individual animals. A typical healthy Husky may love hanging out in below-freezing temperatures, while an old Chihuahua might be too cold, even if it's 50 degrees outside. The legislation also lengthens the minimum tether from 10 to 15 feet and from three to four times the animals' length, except in those rare circumstances when animal control officers felt a shorter tether of at least 10 feet was safer. We did unfortunately have to take out the provision that gave localities permission to instill stricter guidelines to get it through the Senate, but we removed the agricultural exception.
The final conference report passed the House 53-42 and the Senate 28-11. Year after year in the General Assembly, tethering bills were introduced but never passed both chambers. I was proud to have been the prime crafter of the version that finally passed the General Assembly. Thank you to Boyd Walker (who testified), Tessa Read, and Ali Carruthers for bringing this issue to my attention. You may want to read PETA's press release celebrating our success.
Please write the Governor and encourage him to sign HB1552 into law. If you want him to improve the legislation, ask him to give localities permission to enact even stronger animal-protection ordinances.
Bill Passed Without Conference
Not every bill goes to conference, of course. Sometimes House and Senate agree without it, as they did with the five bills the Governor already signed into law. They also agreed with the following bill:
11. HB894, requiring training of all of Virginia's incoming teachers on best practices for conflict prevention and de-escalation. This bill will help schools avoid restraint and seclusion wherever possible when working with disruptive students. Thank you to Alexandria School Board member Meagan Alderton; Alex Sprague, who advocates for people with autism; and Kathy Burcher of the Virginia Education Association for helping me to formulate this proposal. It passed the House 97-2 and the Senate 28-12. You can watch my presentations on this bill here and here.
Please write the Governor and encourage him to sign HB894 into law. He can improve it even more by including express restrictions on seclusion.
Not every bill of mine retains its original bill number and patron. Many of my bills were incorporated into the bills of others. When another House legislator and I proposed bills with similar ideas, they had to be combined into one bill. I virtually always deferred to them to let them carry our joint product forward, so long as they fought to keep in the incorporated legislation my original proposal.
As I had proposed 47 bills, it only made sense to let another competent legislator carry the ball (aka the bill) forward. I certainly had plenty on my plate. And I have long believed it is more important to get a policy enacted into law.
It is amazing what you can accomplish
if you do not care who gets the credit.
But just because I incorporated my bill into the bill of another does not mean I ceased watching it, caring about its progress, or helping out along the way when necessary. When a bill I introduce becomes law, its passage is always worthy of celebration!
12. HB972, marijuana decriminalization, which incorporated my HB301, passed the House 56-36 and the Senate 27-12. I wrote about this bill at length in my March 12 newsletter. As you may be aware, I have proposed marijuana decriminalization virtually every year since my first session in 2016, and my medical marijuana proposal became law in 2018. I was pleased that my fellow Alexandrian Delegate Charniele Herring could bring this long-held concern of mine to a strong conclusion, with likely legalization to happen next year.
13. The Virginia Values Act (SB868), incorporated my HB1050 and strengthens the remedies in Virginia law against employment and public accommodations discrimination. It passed the House 54-46 and the Senate 27-13.
I wrote the original draft of this bill and worked very hard on it. In fact, at one time, it was part of HB1049, but I separated these two mammoth bills in order to make them both easier to pass.
Please write the Governor and encourage him to sign SB868 into law. Please also encourage him to amend the bill to make the legislation stronger to include independent contractors and businesses with fewer than five employees.
14. HB789, the Fairness in Lending Act, which incorporated my HB184 (reining in predatory open-end credit loans with absurdly high interest rates), passed the House 62-30 and the Senate 28-12. I've proposed legislation on this issue several times in the past and even sat on a committee to try to resolve the issue when the Republicans were in power and stakeholders like out-of-state lenders refused any limitation on interest (they insisted 1,000,000% should be legal!). So I was very pleased to see this legislation pass the House and Senate. The form proposed by Delegate Lamont Bagby is even more comprehensive than my original bill, because it includes payday loans and car title loans, as well as my interest limitations on open-end credit.
16. HB319, my prison gerrymandering legislation, was also incorporated into Delegate Price's HB1255. It critically counts prisoners in the place where they resided before they went to prison (and where they will vote and where they will need services once they get out) and not at the location of the prison (where they were involuntarily sent, where they can't vote, and where the locality provides no services to them).
The one difference between HB1255 and HB319 is that in my bill, out-of-state residents were counted out of state (not for purposes of Virginia's representation vis-à-vis other states but for purposes of representation within Virginia). Why should localities containing a Virginia prison get more representation than Alexandria or Arlington, merely because some non-voting prisoner from Maryland is temporarily housed there using state funds?
Please write the Governor and encourage him to sign HB1255 into law. Please ask the Governor to improve the law by properly counting non-Virginian prisoners as residing out of state.
17. HB1406 (which incorporated my HB181) will empanel a commission with the ability to replace Virginia's statue of Robert E. Lee in the US Capitol. It passed the Senate 19-18 and the House 52-30. I believe I was the first legislator in Virginia history to propose removing this statue. And I was proud to hand the task over to my colleague Delegate Jeion Ward to see it through to completion.
Left: The statue of Robert E Lee Virginia placed in the US Capitol. Every state gets two. Is Lee the second greatest Virginian that ever lived? I certainly don't think so!
18. HB1251, which incorporated my HB189, prohibits surprise balance billing in healthcare. This bill's compromise version in conference was the best we could achieve at the current time. In the majority of cases, my main priority was met: making sure the cost does not fall on the patient. As the Virginia Mercury wrote:
"Under the new law, patients who receive out-of-network emergency care — or treatment from an out-of-network doctor at a hospital covered by their plan — can only be charged the in-network rate required by their plan, including their usual copay or deductible.
Importantly, the law only applies to patients with state-regulated health care plans. ERISA plans (coverage provided and paid for by a single employer) have to opt into the law, potentially leaving up to 3 million Virginians still vulnerable to balance billing..."
Please write the Governor and encourage him to sign HB1251 into law. Please ask him to improve the law by amending it to include all ERISA plans.
19. HB582, which incorporated my HB327, allows public servants to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions. I incorporated my bill into Delegate Guzman's with the hope her more far-reaching bill would supplement my more modest removal of the prohibition against collective bargaining by public-sector employees. The original version of the bill provided:
- public sector employees could unionize;
- localities had to recognize those unions; and
- the Virginia Public Employee Relations Board would be created to enforce the labor laws and settle disputes.
But the Senate — consistently more conservative than the House this session on a broad range of issues, including workers' rights — watered down the bill to an even weaker one than I had originally proposed. The version that came out of conference simply said some public sector employees could unionize and collectively bargain if localities allowed it. Well, it's a start.
Please write the Governor and encourage him to sign HB582 into law. Please ask him to strengthen labor protections as well, although those will be an uphill battle to pass in the Senate.
This was the rare case where I preferred the Senate version over the House version, because it matched my original bill. My original bill allowed voters to sign under penalty of perjury instead of presenting a photo ID. But my bill also allowed other forms of identity to be used as ID, such as utility bills and the like. I was disappointed when Delegate Lindsey removed the other forms of ID when my bill was incorporated into his. But to my delight, Senator Locke liked my version and drafted her companion bill SB65 identically to mine! So in committee, I voted to prefer her/my bill over HB19. And thankfully, HB19 was amended in committee to return it back to the same language as my original HB190. So my bill, as originally proposed, passed after all!
21. HB198, which incorporated my HB178, requires tied votes in elections to be resolved through special elections rather than drawing a name from a bowl. It passed the House 52-45 and the Senate 22-15. See this article for more details and context.
22. HB244 (as part of HB1150), disentangling local law enforcement from federal immigration enforcement, passed the House 54-45 and the Senate on a party-line 21-19 vote. The original version proposed by Delegate Lopez and myself allowed local officials to report an immigrant to ICE but no longer required them to do so for every prisoner taken into custody. The Senate watered down our original version. The Senate still requires localities to report immigrants convicted of a felony to ICE but allows those convicted of misdemeanors not to be reported.
23. After HB247, which increases penalties for drivers who seriously hurt pedestrians while disobeying traffic laws, failed to get sufficient support to get out of subcommittee. I spoke to the subcommittee chair about his concerns with the bill. Although it was too late to save that legislation, my conversation did persuade him and other members of the subcommittee to support its companion bill SB437. There's more than one way to skin a cat! I know the Alexandria Families for Safe Streets are pleased to know that their hard work and lobbying efforts finally paid off. The bill passed the House 63-37 and the Senate 26-14.
So 23 of my bills passed in one form or another, but the House sent 30 of my bills to the Senate.
What happened to the other 7 bills?
Three were killed in the Senate, and four were continued by the Senate until 2021.
Three Bills that Passed the House But Were Killed in the Senate.
One of my bills that failed to move forward in the Senate
passed the House unanimously.
24. HB863, which passed 99-0 in the House and would have made it easier for non-clergy to perform marriage ceremonies, was killed in a 7-7 tie vote by Republicans and two Democrats (Chap Petersen and John Edwards) on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, March 2.
Current Virginia law says that an out-of-state minister can perform a marriage, without any background check whatsoever. (They could be an ax murderer.) But your Mom, your Uncle John, or your favorite professor from college can't perform a ceremony if they live out of state, unless they are ministers of a religious congregation. And even if the person you want to officiate at your wedding lives in state, she must post more than $600, go to court four times, get a notary public, and obtain a court order. Why should Virginia courts be tied up as they individually examine whether they think it's appropriate to have your father or your best friend officiate at your wedding? Talk about nasty government overreach!
But that's current law. Why is it the Government's business to tell every Virginian who they think is proper to marry them? I don't know. Ask Chap Petersen. His commentary at the hearing and in the press made no sense to me. He has a paternalistic notion that "government knows best." Don't let Dad or Uncle John marry these people. Only allow an Alaskan ax-murderer (so long as he's a minister!).
Every single House Republican, like every House Democrat, was willing to accept the hardly radical notion that folks getting married should be able to choose their own wedding officiant. The bill passed 99-0 in the House. The entire House of Delegates agreed with me that marrying couples should be able to choose who performs their marriage ceremonies.
But at a time when our courts are overworked, should the Virginia Government really have to oversee every single secular marriage? Is that what we are paying our judges to do? To become nosy about our private lives? Is that the most important use of our tax dollars? To find out if some judge or some senator believes you know your wedding officiant enough to deem her or him to be sufficiently "worthy" to marry you?
And even if you do believe the Commonwealth of Virginia should legally favor religious observance over secular celebrations, our current law is a clear violation of the First Amendment which prohibits the establishment of religion. Federal courts have consistently found statutes like Virginia's to be unconstitutional. See, e.g. this recent 2014 case. I let the Senators know this at the hearing.
I suppose I could go to court or the Attorney General to get this law overturned. And if I have the spare time, I may still do so. But I sincerely thought these Senators would have more respect for the United States Constitution. Or at least as much respect as the House had.
You can watch the hearing by clicking below. The hearing of my bill starts at the 1:49 mark of the video linked below. (You'll see that the camera streaming the hearing had some technical difficulties in the beginning of my presentation but they clear up quickly.)
By killing this bill, these Senators also killed many Virginians' hopes of getting married in the Commonwealth by the people they love. Many of these couples will instead take their business elsewhere, to get married in a state more in line with the times and the Constitution than we are. And I can't blame them.
I will be back with this bill next year. Every single one of my House colleagues supported it. My constituents supported it. The Clerks of Court supported it. Clergy supported it. Advocates for the First Amendment supported it. No one — except a few Senators who wanted to substitute their personal paternalistic judgment over every single Virginian couple seeking to be married without a minister — opposed this bill.
We will eventually make sure that freedom of religion — and "no establishment" of religion — is the law of the land in the Commonwealth.
As for the other two bills that passed the House but failed in the Senate, I shared with you their fate in prior newsletters.
25. 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. This bill, which passed 64-33 in the House, was a long-held priority for the City of Alexandria and would have brought greater access to justice to the entire community, including people who can't afford legal representation. But all nineteen Republican Senators joined with a couple of Democrats on the Senate Floor to defeat the measure to allow poor people some measure of due process in our court system. The fate of the bill in the Senate was described at length in my March 1 newsletter.
26. HB321 (electronic meetings for local officials), which passed the House 62-38, was killed by the Senate General Laws Committee. Big mistake. My bill would have made it easier for local government to meet electronically during the coronavirus quarantine. But because Senators killed the bill, local officials, quarantined to take care of sick family members, will be unable to conduct local business electronically.
Current law does allow localities to meet electronically during a state of emergency but only to deal with that emergency. My bill would have allowed healthy local officials, quarantined due to the coronavirus of sick family members, to still conduct other pressing local business. Now they have to risk getting or spreading infection just to serve their localities. While it's true I didn't craft the bill with the pandemic in mind, it shows how this good legislation could have been put to good use. Now we will have to wait until next year — after the pandemic is hopefully gone — to put into place a provision that should have been there if the Senate had acted in the first place. The fate of the bill in the Senate was described at length in my March 1 newsletter
Four other bills that passed the House were continued to next year by the Senate:
Eleven Bills Continued to 2021
28. HB326 (incorporated into HB416) would have barred salary-history questions for job applicants that reinforce gender- and race-based wage gaps that bolster income inequality. This bill was continued to next year by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. The fate of the bill in the Senate was described at length in my March 1 newsletter.
29. HB900 (incorporated into HB1288) would have prohibited domestic abusers and sexual predators from purchasing or possessing guns. It was continued to next year by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The fate of the bill in the Senate was described at length in my March 1 newsletter.
30. HB961 (assault weapons regulation and high-capacity magazine ban) was the Governor's bill and my single most controversial bill offered this year. Four Senate Democrats — Creigh Deeds, John Edwards, Chap Petersen, and Scott Surovell — joined Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee in voting to continue to bill to next year. The fate of the bill in the Senate was described at length in my February 22 newsletter.
These binders represent bills continued to the 2021 Session
The House continued seven bills to next year as well, giving me time to work on them and improve them. The next five bills are described at length in my February 3 newsletter.
31. HB188, would have required doctors and hospitals to divulge the costs of procedures long before those procedures take place. This was a complex, difficult bill I hope to bring back next year.
32. HB1052 would have allowed localities to create locally-owned municipal broadband services like the very successful program in Chattanooga, which has the fastest internet in the country. This is particularly important to my Alexandria constituents who, like me, have only one realistic choice for their internet. This was also a complex, difficult bill but one I hope to bring back again. The Chair of the Counties, Cities, and Towns Committee ordered it be studied.
33. HB960 would have increased the sales tax on purchases of firearms and ammunition by a few percentage points, with collected funds going to student mental health and safety. It was continued to next year by the House Finance Committee.
34. HB320 would have allowed a crime to be sealed from a person's record if it is no longer a crime (such as past marijuana charges we are decriminalizing this year). The Courts of Justice Chair sent it to the Crime Commission to be studied and brought back next year. This was done for all sealing and expungement proposals.
35. HB865 would have allowed people who have served their time to seal a non-violent drug possession offense. The Courts of Justice Chair also sent it to the Crime Commission to be studied and brought back next year.
36. HB864 would have decriminalized sex with HIV-positive people who cannot transmit the disease by aligning Virginia's infected sexual battery law with the most up-to-date public health best practices. But the bill was continued to next year because advocates did not think the bill, as amended in subcommittee, went far enough. I fought hard for this bill, but unfortunately, I don't see much hope for the legislation's future unless either my colleagues or advocates budge on the issue. The fate of this bill in the House was described at length in my February 13 newsletter.
37. HJ143 was my constitutional amendment that expressly prohibited gerrymandering by setting up a transparent, independent, non-partisan citizens' commission to draw district lines using strict criteria, including a mathematical criterion of fairness. It was also continued to 2021, when amendments to the Virginia Constitution are usually considered. I talked about this constitutional amendment at length in my February 13 newsletter and March 16 newsletter.
Gone for Now, But Not Forgotten
As you recall, I introduced 47 bills. So that leaves 10 more still to be described.
I told you what happened to them in prior newsletters, but I repeat their fate here to be complete.
Two Redistricting Bills
38/39. HB1055 and HB1645 died. These were two bills which would have formed a bipartisan or nonpartisan commission to do the 2021 redistricting. If we fail to pass the constitutional amendment in November 2020, I can bring these bills back in 2021 so that a commission — and not the General Assembly — does the 2021 redistricting. This would prevent gerrymandering. I talked about these bills at length in my February 13 newsletter and March 16 newsletter.
Two Firearms Bills
40/41. HB899 would have banned armor-piercing (so-called "cop-killer") bullets. HB450 would have prohibited people ordered locked up due to severe mental illness from possessing firearms. As I said in my February 13 newsletter, the House Public Safety Committee decided to limit discussion on most firearms bills outside the Governor's eight bills since we had done so much gun regulation this year. So these bills were never heard, but I could bring them back next year.
Paid Family Medical Leave
42. I've repeatedly introduced bills like HB328 (paid family medical leave) since my first year in office. The bill passed the House Labor and Commerce Committee but it failed in appropriations, as I described in my February 3 and February 13 newsletters. If this bill had become law, it would have been very useful for Virginians during the current pandemic. So useful that even the federal government is purportedly considering it on a short-term basis! I would hope that recent events have finally persuaded my colleagues that this is a benefit worth pursuing for hard-working Virginians. No one should be forced to come to work when they or a family member is sick. It doesn't just protect Virginia families. It affects the entire community!
Campaign Finance Reform
43. HB895 would have modestly limited Virginia's campaign contribution limit to the federal limit (currently $2,800 per election cycle and $5,600 per year). Currently, Virginia allows unlimited contributions. Yet even a proposal to allow $20,000(!) per donor per candidate failed in a Senate Committee this year. Clearly we have a long way to go before some of my colleagues take campaign finance reform seriously.
Perhaps the failure of these last four bills hurt the most. I described all of them at length in my February 16 newsletter.
Local Option Minimum Wage
44. HB325 would have given localities the option of raising the minimum wage beyond the state level. I think it was defeated because we had such tremendous success raising the minimum wage statewide this year.
Simplifying Protective Orders for Domestic Violence Victims
45. HB919 would have simplified the process by which victims of domestic violence obtain protective orders. This was frustrating. In my opinion, too many criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors are trying to game the system to get acquittals or convictions while discounting the needs of the very victims the law is supposed to be protecting.
Reforming Guardianship to Minimize Isolation
46. HB862 would have reformed our guardianship system to minimize forced isolation of people who've been deemed incapable of making their own decisions. It was very frustrating to have a last-minute assertion from a single unhappy lawyer blow up a months-long agreement among a dozen stakeholder groups. You can read all about it in the February 16 newsletter. As you'll see there, even reporters thought the defeat of this bill was colossally unfair. You can rest assured I will have a talk with my colleagues about it. This bill will be back.
Ending Bigotry in State-Sponsored Adoptions
47. HB1051 would have prohibited state funds going to adoption agencies that discriminate against people on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or status as a veteran. The defeat of this bill, like the last one, was very upsetting because my colleagues who killed the bill should have known better. This is one of the only loopholes left in the law that still allows for state-sponsored discrimination, and we must close it. Honestly, I thought it would be an easy lift this year, but I was wrong. I will be working in the off session to show my colleagues that we can work out transitional elements to ensure that state-sponsored bigotry has no place in Virginia. I wrote at length about this bill in my January 26 and February 16 newsletters.
If you are one of the few intrepid folks who actually read every word of this newsletter,
please let me know what you thought.
These binders represent bills that died in the 2020 session, but are not forgotten.
I re-use binders from year to year.
And oftentimes, bills that don't pass in one year succeed in a subsequent year.
I am persistent.
It is always my honor and privilege to serve you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District