MARK IN THE NEWS:
Mark Levine Endorsed for VA Lieutenant Governor
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Alexandria, VA 22314
The Newsletter in 60 Seconds???
Can I give you the entire newsletter in 60 seconds?
No? How about while standing on one foot?
The House and Senate Adjourn
On Saturday, at 11:12 PM, the House of Delegates concluded its last more-than-12-hour marathon floor session. On Monday, we adjourned sine die. (Sine die is latin for an adjournment "without a date" set to reconvene.)
It was another historic session, the first entirely virtual session for the Virginia House of Delegates in its 402 years of history -- historic also for the scope of progressive legislation passed by Democrats in our second year of control in more than a quarter-century. But of course, 25 years ago, Virginia was governed by a very different Democratic Party. The 2020-21 General Assembly may well be the most progressive in Virginia history (with the possible exception of a brief period under Union occupation just following the Civil War).
We passed a great budget that will support working families, strengthen our economy, and does more to respond to COVID-19.
We passed historic legislation to strengthen civil rights, reform our criminal justice system, expand access to healthcare, protect our environment, and make our economy work better for all Virginians.
And I personally introduced and passed two landmark bills banning firearms in polling places and in government buildings and Capitol Square.
That said, as with all sessions, there were some disappointments. Many great progressive bills were passed by the House of Delegates but watered down in the Senate. As always, I will transparently share the good, the bad, and the ugly. But that said, there's a heckuva lot to be proud of.
I will, as I always do, detail the highlights of session, my bills, and my thoughts about them.
But first, a word about all those fundraising emails from me you've received...
A Wide Open Race for Lieutenant Governor
Anyone who gets my emails knows I am running for Lieutenant Governor. Since I've detailed my reasons elsewhere, I'll be brief here: I want to transform a sleepy part-time constitutional office that mostly presides over the Virginia Senate for two months -- and goes home the other ten -- into a full-time machine for constituent service: an ombudsman and a direct conduit to the seat of power.
I have pledged to travel (post-COVID!) to all of Virginia's 133 counties and cities (the third most number of localities in the 50 states) because I think too many people feel distant from their state government. It is my hope that talking with folks about their lives in their hometowns, everything from their wages and health care to racial and environmental justice, discussing both their hopes and their fears and reaching out the way a central government rarely does to our bosses--the people who elect us.
I have a proud record of being accessible and promoting transparency. I will continue Mark's Monthly Meetups, which I've done now for six years. And while I will always be upfront about my progressive values, I aim to serve all Virginia. It is only when we talk to each other and try to understand each other that myths are dispelled. Even an honest airing of differences can bring folks closer together, so long as it is done respectfully and with integrity.
No one expects Vice President Kamala Harris to serve as Vice Presidents did a century ago -- presiding over the Senate and otherwise staying out of national policy. Why should Virginia be saddled with a Lieutenant Governor model from yesteryear? I will pursue a strong legislative agenda. My aim is to transform the office of Lieutenant Governor of Virginia so it's never seen as a part-time job again.
So that's why you're getting all those fundraising emails. And I know they can be annoying. Personally, I hate asking for money. I love every other aspect of my job: meeting constituents, listening to your concerns, debating policy, working hard to get the details of a bill just right, and looking for creative ways to solve thorny problems.
But fundraising? I don't enjoy it. Politicians shouldn't have to raise money for our elections at all. I have long supported public campaign financing, as it's done in much of the rest of the Western world. Let the candidate with the best ideas win the race! Not the one who raises the most money. I've introduced legislation to restrict the amount donors can give and I've copatroned several more bills on campaign financing. Most of them have gone nowhere. I'm an outlier. Both Republicans and Democrats prefer the current system. Indeed, one of the reasons I'm running for Lieutenant Governor is to shine more light on this thorny issue.
But the system is what it is. The surest way to win an election is to have enough finances to fund a campaign. And in this Lieutenant Governor's race, where I'm tied for first in a large eight-person field with the vast majority of Virginians undecided, name recognition matters. A statewide campaign will likely cost more than a million dollars with television ads and mailers, etc. Yes, I've raised money before -- I've given away more than $120,000 in campaign funds I raised in 2017 and 2019 to turn Virginia blue. And, to be honest, it's easier for me to ask for campaign funds for someone else than for myself.
But here's the thing...
You know me. You know my heart. You know my values. You know how hard I fight for you and the causes we both believe in. You know my obsession with getting the details right. You know my long history as a grassroots political activist, getting in "good trouble" the way John Lewis asked us all to do. You know how much I care. You know I wear my heart on my sleeve, because I care a bit too much. You know how easy it is to call and talk to me. You know I'm not your standard politician in any way, shape, or form.
Most Virginians don't know me. Most Virginians don't know any of the candidates for Lieutenant Governor. And while I hate our current political campaign finance system, I know that it's your dollars that give me the chance to serve all of Virginia in a way that few others want to do. With sincerity. With hard work. With values and people first. With transparency.
And so my campaign sends you fundraising requests. And I'm happy to report they've been working. In the few short days since session ended, more than 280 of you have sent a donation. The average contribution has been $49.57. Please don't be annoyed with my campaign for sending these requests. The truth is that on days we don't send them, we get very few donations. And on days we do send them, donations come in. I wish I didn't have to ask for money. But that's the way our system currently works. And in order to get in there and change the system, I need to first be elected under the current system as it is.
So with that long, frank, tortuous explanation, I humbly ask, if you can afford it, and if you want to see someone like me serve all of Virginia, to donate what you can. Just click here or the big button below.
And if you've already given and you can afford to give a little more, please do. Every penny we raise goes to my hard-working staff, postage for mailers, advertising expenses, etc.
And with that, I move on to more standard newsletter fare...
Virginia's Democratic Majority is
Transforming our Commonwealth
I didn't spend a day this year at the Capitol,
but we transformed Virginia all the same.
The Democratic majority built on our historic successes from 2020 with the following legislation passed in a 46-day period:
I'm the Chairman of the Constitutional Amendment subcommittee.
- We passed my Constitutional Amendment to make marriage in Virginia a fundamental right and accessible to all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender.*
- We passed an equally transformative Constitutional Amendment to restore voting rights to ex-felons the moment they leave prison.* (I'm copatron.)
* Both Constitutional Amendments must be passed again in the 2022 session and then be approved by the people of Virginia in November 2022 to become part of the Virginia Constitution.
- We abolished the death penalty.
- We passed emergency legislation to make it easier for Virginia to vaccinate all of us.
- We legalized marijuana as of January 1, 2024. (We should have legalized it sooner, but this was one of those bills watered down by the Senate.)
- We banned firearms and explosives in the State Capitol, Capitol Square, and all state government buildings. (My legislation - HB2295.)
- We banned firearms at polling places and counting centers. (My legislation - HB2081.)
I chief copatroned these seven bills, all of which passed into law:
- We prohibited domestic abusers from possessing firearms for three years after a conviction. (This bill was also weakened by the Senate but still a victory.)
- We protected Virginians with disabilities by adding them to the Virginia Human Rights Act.
- We prioritized services to older Virginians to those with the greatest economic and social need.
- We renamed Jefferson Davis Highway to Emancipation Highway throughout Virginia.
- We allowed the redistricting commission to remove a commissioner for misconduct.
- We created the Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Board.
- We banned the "gay/trans panic" defense.
In addition, several bills completed work I began in prior sessions:
- We bolstered transparency requirements for prescription drug prices.
- We modernized HIV laws put in place during the 1980s AIDS epidemic that stigmatize AIDS victims and are proven to be ineffective in regards to public health.
- We protected domestic workers from exploitation by including them in our workplace safety and nondiscrimination laws.
- We established a process for the automatic sealing of certain non-violent convictions.
- We voted to erect a statue to Barbara Johns in Statuary Hall at the US Capitol in place of Virginia's former statue of Robert E. Lee.
I copatroned all of the following bills, which passed into law:
- We banned single-use styrofoam food containers.
- We adopted new Clean Car Standards.
- We ended coal tax credits.
- We made it easier for localities to take steps to reduce the effects of climate change and urban flooding (a bill I drafted)
- We expanded overtime.
- We expanded sick leave for home health care workers.
- We required state transportation projects to pay a prevailing wage.
- We created the Secretary of Labor.
- We reformed the Virginia Employment Commission and unemployment process to make it easier for claimants, including by ending the practice of cutting people off without notice and forgiving overpayments.
- We allowed abortion to be covered in state health insurance
- We passed the Virginia Voting Rights Act.
- We allowed Sunday voting.
- We strengthened absentee voting.
- We allowed 16 and 17 year olds to pre-register to vote.
- We ensured that emergency Medicaid will cover COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccination free for all Virginians regardless of immigration status.
- We mandated data collection on vaccinations to ensure equitable distribution.
- We strengthened renters' rights against eviction.
- We allowed restaurants to continue to serve cocktails to go.
- We allowed tax relief to small businesses who received PPP benefits.
- We gave undocumented immigrants access to in-state tuition and financial assistance.
- We limited the release of DMV data for immigration enforcement.
- We eliminated requirements that mental-health facilities report to ICE.
- We allowed people to pursue education without losing food stamps.
- We banned schools from suing students and their families over school meal debt.
- We provided some scholarships for descendants of enslaved Virginians.
- We made it easier for relatives to adopt children.
- We stopped requiring parents of kids in juvenile detention to pay for their child's incarceration.
- We instituted no-fault divorce.
- We allowed grandparent visitation when a parent is deceased or incapacitated.
Criminal Justice Reform
- We allowed courts to consider evidence of a defendant’s mental illness, autism spectrum disorder, or intellectual/developmental disability in criminal sentencing.
- We stopped punishing drug users who save other drug users from an overdose.
- We made it easier to study gun violence.
- We created a study group to ensure that pregnant inmates receive a high standard of care during their incarceration, along with appropriate postpartum care, and opportunities to bond with their babies.
- We expanded broadband.
- We removed the Harry Byrd statue in Capitol Square
- We expanded the Court of Appeals and created appeals as of right.
Believe it or not, the list above is just a small subset of the 124 bills, 17 resolutions, and 62 commending and memorial resolutions I copatroned this year. For the full list, click here. Or you can watch me try to describe all of this in 60 seconds. And that list is just a subset of the 622 bills we passed out of 1,092 bills considered in our 46-day session. That was a record low number of bills passed and considered, as we were limited in the number of bills we could put forward this year to the shortness of the session and the fact that it was entirely virtual in the House. But I hope you'll agree we did a lot of good things in the short time we had.
We passed an excellent budget this year. You can see the House Appropriations Committee presentation on the budget conference report by clicking here or on the image below.
This analysis by The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis also offers a good overview of what's in the budget.
Here are some very brief highlights of the budget that we passed:
- 5% pay raise for teachers and state employees
- $443 million in No Loss Payments to protect local school district funding
- $89.3 million for mass COVID-19 vaccination efforts
- $58.6 million over the biennium for the purchase, storage, and distribution of PPE (personal protective equipment, such as high-quality masks for health-care workers)
- $32 million to support the Metro
- $62.1 million for a Child Care Subsidy Program
- $31.8 million to expand prenatal care for expectant mothers, regardless of immigration status.
- $19 million to forgive no-fault unemployment insurance overpayments.
- Increases in TANF funding (Temporary Aid to Needy Families)
- Increases in funding for indigent defense.
- Refunds of Dominion overcharges for all ratepayers.
- Ends funding for the maintenance of Confederate graves and memorials that has been funded since the early-1900's. I had requested this last provision.
MY LAST BILL PASSED ON THE LAST DAY
Safe Capitol Law Sent to Governor Northam
On Saturday, the General Assembly passed the conference report for the Safe Capitol Law (HB2295), my bill to ban guns and explosives in Virginia's State Capitol, on the Capitol grounds, and in all state government buildings throughout the Commonwealth. It passed by votes of 51-46 in the House of Delegates and 22-17 in the Senate. The bill now goes to Governor Ralph Northam. The conference report reduced the area covered by the bill and increased the list of exemptions to it. The Senate, as is typical, watered down my more path-breaking bill from the version that passed out of the House. Nevertheless, the bill is one of the more far-reaching prohibitions on firearm and explosives possession in Virginia history. Guns and explosives simply are not appropriate for the public to bring into government buildings, from courthouses to offices to Capitol Square.
The events of January 6 underscored our need to be ever vigilant in protecting our democracy and our public servants from those who would seek to persuade us through threats of violence and intimidation. In a democracy, the people with the most votes rule. Not the people with the most guns. When people come to lobby their elected officials, they can use their voices, emails, letters, social media, signs, and persuasion. If they don't like what we do, they can support campaigns of those that run against us or even run themselves. What they can't legally do is threaten our physical safety.
Banning guns in the Capitol is hardly some radical liberal idea. A large number of other states, including "red states" like Idaho, Louisiana, North Carolina, North Dakota, and South Carolina, already prohibit firearms in their State Capitols. And, of course, the US Capitol does the same. Can you imagine how much worse January 6 would have been if the District of Columbia did not have strict gun laws and if the violent insurrectionists had brought arms in large numbers that day? There would likely have been a bloody massacre and a possible prevention, for the first time in American history, of the peaceful transfer of power. I shudder to imagine it. Indeed, it was the events of January 6 that caused me to jettison another bill I had drafted and give it to another legislator to put forward, just to make room in my docket for this bill. (They only allowed us to introduce seven bills this year.)
The Safe Capitol Bill was a priority bill for leading gun violence prevention groups, including the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown/Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and the Giffords Law Center. My special thanks to Lori Haas for her counsel throughout the process.
The bill isn't quite out of the woods yet. It is on the way to Governor Ralph Northam for amendment or signature. I'm quite confident he will not veto the bill, but if he amends it, I hope he strengthens its provisions rather than weakening them. Please consider writing the Governor to show your support for strengthening, rather than weakening, the Safe Capitol Law.
My Other Proposals that Passed this Session
As I described what happened to all of my other bills in depth in previous newsletters, I won't delve into great detail again here. But just for a quick recap:
Our Marriage Equality Amendment (HJ539, my Constitutional Amendment, incorporated into Delegate Mark Sickles' HJ582) repealed Virginia's constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriage and included the very important language I drafted that affirmatively protects marriage equality.
Full marriage equality is now (1) a third of the way to becoming part of the Virginia Constitution. To succeed, it must also (2) pass the House and Senate again in 2022; and (3) be approved by a majority of Virginia voters in November 2022.
My Safe Elections Law (HB2081), banned guns in polling places and vote counting centers. This includes recount centers, when emotions are high and the election outcome hangs in the balance. The bill is on its way to the Governor for amendment or signature. I'm confident he will sign it.
Our polling places and vote counting centers are the heart of our democracy. Virginia's voters, election workers, and public servants must be protected from intimidation and threats of violence. As I say time and time again, in a democracy, those with the guns don't make the rules. The People do. Voters do.
My Virtual Meetings Bill (HB1931) increased local elected officials' ability to meet virtually and will make it easier for those who have to take care of their family members to serve their communities at the same time. This was a bill requested by the Vice Mayor of Alexandria and hundreds of local elected officials throughout the Commonwealth. We also passed SB1271, a bill I drafted to allow virtual meetings during COVID. In its original form (as drafted by someone else), the bill would have prohibited local governments from having full freedom to do all of their work during the pandemic. But that's why they call me "Caucus Goalie." I caught the mistake in drafting and insisted it be redone and done correctly.
Finally, HJ552 will create a joint subcommittee on urban and inland flooding to develop a comprehensive and coordinated planning effort to address recurrent flooding in inland and urban areas throughout Virginia. This study is a direct result of Alexandrians organizing and advocating for a real solution to the problem of frequent flooding in our neighborhoods. Sadly, limate change doesn't only affect the coasts.
Please consider once again a donation to my Lieutenant Governor campaign. You know how hard I work for you and how hard I will work for all Virginians.
And if you've already given but can afford to give a little more, I respectfully ask once again for your support.
I thank you again for the honor and privilege of serving you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in Virginia's 45th District