Mark in the News:
Next Steps After Amendment One:
My Bill on Virtual Meetings for Local Government:
Alexandria Gazette Packet
Virtual participation in public meetings recommended by Virginia FOIA advisory council subcommittee
The Center Square - Virginia
Links on COVID-19:
Or by mail and phone:
900 East Main Street, Suite E208
Richmond, VA 23219
301 King St
Alexandria, VA 22314
Needless to say, there's a lot going on in Virginia and in this newsletter!
You can hear all about these topics and any others on your mind at Mark's Monthly Meetup tomorrow (Sunday) from 1 to 3 pm. To join us, just click here:
Sunday, November 22, 1-3 pm
Join and download Zoom for FREE by clicking here. If you don't have access to Zoom, you can also call in to join the discussion: (929) 205-6099. (Meeting ID: 825 7153 7323. Passcode: 620220)
Here's a summary of my newsletter:
I congratulate the new President-Elect and Vice-President Elect. A new day is dawning in America, as we are finally on the road back to normalcy, humanity, and integrity. I know we're exhausted and relieved, but we can't rest yet. And not just because we have to win two runoffs in Georgia to determine whether President-Elect Biden has any reasonable chance of sustaining us over the next four years.
But the fight to sustain our democracy against Trumpism is far from over. Trump, with support or complicit silence from the vast majority of elected Republicans, is astonishingly working to overthrow the elected United States Government. With at least 50 million Americans brainwashed by his cult -- and actually believing ridiculous, conspiratorial lies without a shred of evidence, that any well-informed or rational person knows cannot be true -- I believe we may face the gravest threat to our democracy since the Civil War.
The refusal by the vast majority of elected Republicans to follow the law or the norms of our constitutional republic has delayed the presidential transition at a critical time when the hand-off of the effort to distribute vaccines to hundreds of millions of Americans must be well organized and managed precisely. This could well lead directly to thousands more innocent lives lost.
Furthermore, the Trump Administration is also working to damage Americans' economic well-being by denying us Congressionally-authorized federal loans and benefits in an apparent attempt to "salt the earth" for the Biden Administration. It's like setting fire to the White House just after leaving it, although with effects far more deadly and corrosive to our democracy than that would be. After all, we rebuilt the White House after the British set it afire in 1814.
I know you're tired. I'm tired. We are all tired. But we must be vigilant. We cannot relax. If we don't keep this momentum going forward in the face of the implacable racism, voter suppression, and sheer hatred of democracy that is Trumpism, we may well lose our beloved republic once and for all. Yes, we survived catastrophe. But democracy in America is still on life support unless we reclaim it.
Amendment One passed, too. I discuss below my next steps to try improve this bad amendment, to lessen its negative impact and to make the entire process more transparent. I also will work to repeal Amendment One with a much better constitutional amendment in 2021 that actually bans gerrymandering once and for all. But I fully recognize the passage of Amendment One now makes any hope of completely banning gerrymandering in Virginia a very tough lift.
We finished a historic Special Session, the longest in memory. We're working practically year-round now to address the coronavirus pandemic, budget shortfalls, and racial and criminal justice reform. Below, I discuss our final work.
The January-February 2021 Session is around the corner. Like the Special Session, it will be virtual, the first virtual regular session in Virginia history. In odd-numbered years, we only work 6 1/2 weeks (46 days), and Republicans this year want to limit us to only 30 days. The short session will severely limit our traditional output.
It looks like we may introduce only seven bills!
That's quite a severe limitation for me, as I've traditionally filled by short-session fifteen-bill dance card. In long sessions, we have no limit on the number of bills we can introduce. (In 2020, I introduced 47 of them. About half of them became law.)
COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire all around the United States. It's hitting a peak in Virginia, too, although it is thankfully not as bad here as it is in most of the rest of the country. In order to fight the pandemic, Governor Northam has issued some new restrictions I describe below. Yes, vaccines are around the corner, but we're not out of the woods yet. We will have to remain vigilant at least through the spring and perhaps summer of 2021, until our lives can finally return to normal again.
Lots More in the Newsletter!
Marijuana Legalization Likely in 2021
Working to Stem Flooding in Del Ray and Old Town (It's not simple!)
My Efforts to Make it Easier for Virginia Local Government to Work Virtually
My Plan to Transform our Presidential Election System to a National Popular Vote
First things first:
President-Elect Joseph R. Biden &
Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris!
President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris,
alongside (soon-to-be) First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff
Virginia not only soundly rejected Donald Trump by a 10-point margin (54-44). We also re-elected Senator Mark Warner and protected all our House Democrats, including those facing tough reelection bids like Repesentatives Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger.
The next battle is in Georgia. While national House Democrats lost some seats but protected their majority, the Senate is still up in the air. Right now, it's 50 Republicansand 48 Democrats. With both Georgia Senate races going to a runoff, Georgians will be voting again on January 5, 2021. If Georgians elect Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, it will be a 50-50 split in Congress' upper chamber, with our Vice President Kamala Harris becoming the all important tie-breaker. Grassroots organizations led by heroic organizers such as Stacey Abrams played a critical role in flipping Georgia blue for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. And now they are working to elect Warnock and Ossoff. Please consider donating to or volunteering with Fair Fight or the New Georgia Project today.
We are in for the fight of our lives. By cutting off aid to struggling Americans in the time of our greatest economic need in 85 years, the current goal of many elected Republicans at the national level seems to be to cause as much death and destruction as possible they can so as to harm President Biden's presidency -- the health, safety, and economic being of the American People be damned.
Depressingly, the great majority of elected Republicans knowingly spread Trump's lies in a frontal attack on our republic. We rightly worked hard to depose a wannabe dictator in the most secure election in American history. But the moment a tyrant knows he's defeated, he's at his most dangerous. With a bruised president angry, out of control, and lashing out, this interregnum between November and January 2020 is downright scary. Particularly since Donald Trump has shown he has far less respect for democracy, fair elections, and the rule of law, than King George III did in the 1700's.
Amendment 1 Passes
On Election Day, Virginia passed a Constitutional Amendment. Voters were told it ended gerrymandering. As you know, I opposed this amendment because when you read the fine print, you see it actually incentivizes legislative-protective gerrymandering and partisan political gerrymandering.
Although it will be more difficult now, I will work this year to pass a Constitutional Amendment that actually bans gerrymandering and requires an independent nonpartisan citizens committee draw the maps. I also commit to try to pass enabling legislation to constrain the worst aspects of Amendment 1.
At our special session's final session on Monday (more details below), the General Assembly took steps, through budget language to ameliorate some (but certainly not all) of my concerns with the amendment.
The redistricting budget language that we passed:
Bans people who hold partisan offices, political aides, campaign employees, lobbyists and others from being appointed to the citizen seats to the commission. It also bans political insiders’ relatives from serving on the commission. But it would still allow business partners and other close friends of party leaders to be appointed by them to the commission. It would also allow an express quid pro quo whereby, for a political donation or personal gift, a rich person could buy his or her way on to the commission.
Stipulates that the commission’s makeup should reflect Virginia’s "racial, ethnic, geographic and gender diversity." But it provides no mechanism to ensure that takes place.
Declares that the commission’s records, including internal communications, are public and subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. But should two legislators exercise the poison pill of allowing the Supreme Court of Virginia draw the maps, there is no transparency whatsoever.
Bans commission members from discussing redistricting-related matters with any third parties “outside of a public meeting or hearing.” But still allows the Supreme Court of Virginia to do so secretly without any disclosure.
Requires the Supreme Court of Virginia to appoint two experts, or special masters, to draw court-overseen maps if the commission and the General Assembly fail to agree on their own. The special masters would be picked from lists submitted by political leaders from both parties. The language is not clear on whether the Virginia Supreme Court can deviate from maps drawn up by one or both experts. I don't think it should be able to.
Requires any Supreme Court judge related to a member of Congress or the General Assembly to recuse themselves from any redistricting decision. Current Justice Teresa M. Chafin is the sister of state Senator Ben Chafin, R-Lebanon. So, if the Court agreed that this legislation constrained her, she would presumably be prevented from participating.
I am pleased with these changes so far as they go, but, as I've made clear in red above and as I expressed in our virtual Floor session, we need more transparency, such as more public participation, including, especially, participation after potential maps are proposed. Watch my remarks on how I'd improve Amendment 1 through legislation by clicking here or on the image below.
Whether you voted for the amendment or against it, I hope you'll agree with me that, notwithstanding the Amendment our protections against gerrymandering should be as strong as we can legally make them both in the regular code and in our Constitution. Supporters of the Amendment claimed they supported transparency. I hope they're on board when I propose to require full transparency in the 2021 Session.
The 2020 Special Session Adjourns
Last week, we adjourned our Special Session sine die after we voted on recommendations sent by Governor Ralph Northam on our Special Session bills, including the budget, several COVID-19 support measures, and long-overdue reforms to Virginia’s law enforcement and criminal justice systems.
See all of the Governor's budget recommendations here. We passed the following:
Amendment 1: Updating COVID-19 Phase 3 guidelines for personal grooming to allow temporary mask removal for customers receiving aesthetic services.
Amendment 3: Giving the Virginia Department of Health flexibility on priority for COVID testing.
Amendment 5: Authorizing and funding an independent investigation of systemic racism at the Virginia Military Institute. I called for such an investigation in October immediately after reading about new recent troubling allegations.
Amendment 7: Removing appropriated funding for Accomack Regional Airport Hangar project. As this was unfortunately rejected by the Senate, funding remains. The reason we have "Smart Scale" is so that transportation projects are based on need and a cost-benefit analysis rather than pork-barrel politics. I would have preferred to rely on that here.
Amendment 8: Removing appropriated funding for Virginia Beach Access Improvement project. (This attempt to get around Smart Scale did not succeed.). I had not expected to speak on this budget amendment, but after another Delegate suggested Alexandria should not be receiving money for its legislatively mandated combined sewer overhaul, I spoke up to defend my city. There's a big difference between getting a small percentage of funding for something the legislature mandates your city do and getting 100% funding for something your city wants to do! Click here or on the image below to watch my very brief remarks.
Amendment 9: Authorizing two DMV office relocations.
What is an "emergency clause"?
Laws enacted in Special Session normally take four months to go into effect. But if the Governor adds an "emergency clause" to legislation supported by majorities in both House and Senate (or if both House and Senate pass a bill by an 80% margin), legislation can take effect immediately.
The Governor added, and we ratified, emergency clauses, to the following legislation:
HB5046 Advancing innovations in telehealth
HB5064 Providing rent-payment-plan opportunities for tenants negatively impacted by COVID-19.
HB 5115 Protecting housing security for individuals and families negatively impacted by COVID-19.
Police and Criminal Justice Reforms
We also passed the following amendments to the following legislation:
HB5058 Eliminating certain vehicle equipment offenses or the odor of marijuana as pretexts for a stop or search by law enforcement. The Governor’s amendment clarified that law enforcement may stop drivers if no headlights or brake lights are in use as required by law.
HB 5109 Standardizing and enhancing training by criminal justice academies of law enforcement officers. The Governor’s amendments made permissive rather than mandatory psychological examinations for new hires.
HB 5148 Increasing earned sentence credits. The Governor’s amendments extended the effective date to June 1, 2023.
We rejected the Governor's amendments to weaken HB 5049, which demilitarizes police and sheriffs by prohibiting the acquisition and use of certain weapons by law enforcement agencies.
One Session Down. Another One Around the Corner...
House of Delegates will Meet Virtually for 2021 Legislative Session
Just finished with one session, we are about to begin another. Under the Virginia Constitution, our regular 2021 session begins on the second Wednesday of the year: January 13, 2021.
And for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia, we intend to meet in regular session virtually. Our Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn had to make this tough call, and I think she made the right one. Although vaccines will hopefully be on their way, there is not sufficient time to vaccinate all of us and our staff and, most importantly, the public that crowds in to watch our proceedings (!) prior to January 13. The pandemic is too serious to take life-threatening risks.
Given our successful virtual Special Session, a virtual Regular Session should not be too hard to achieve. So I will be busy all day but at home in Alexandria rather than away in Richmond. In ordinary times, it would be better to have us all together in Mr. Jefferson's Capitol. But these are not ordinary times.
Luckily, my success as Founder and Chair of the Virginia Transparency Caucus has revolutionized our practices so that now, every committee, subcommittee, and floor session is live-streamed and recorded. All votes to report or kill a bill are now required to be recorded. There is no reason why a virtual session has to sacrifice transparency. In fact, we've made it easier for you to comment publicly from your own home! This is a development I hope will last long after the pandemic no longer plagues us.
See Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn's full statement by clicking here or on the image below.
Virginia Republicans, unhappy with the pace of our progressive change, have announced they will insist we limit our session to 30 days, down from the customary 46 days we had for decades including under Republican rule.
I oppose this. We barely have enough time as it is to examine all the bills we put forward, and when we don't carefully review legislation, mistakes can and do happen. Plus, I think Virginia has a lot of needs for progressive change to put forward. Nevertheless, we have been limited this session to only seven bills each, plus constitutional amendments, studies, and budget amendments. (which don't count under the bill limits).
That bill limit is going to be rough on me and on you, as I'll have to choose among the many priorities I want to put forward. So while I welcome your suggestions at Mark's Monthly Meetup tomorrow, please understand if I have to put off some of your suggestions until 2022.
New Statewide Measures to Contain COVID-19
As COVID-19 surges in states across the country, Governor Ralph Northam has announced new actions to mitigate the spread of the virus in Virginia. While the Commonwealth’s case count per capita and positivity rate remain low compared to the rest of the United States, all five health regions are experiencing increases in new COVID-19 cases, positive tests, and hospitalizations.
Governor Northam said the following:
“COVID-19 is surging across the country, and while cases are not rising in Virginia as rapidly as in some other states, I do not intend to wait until they are. We are acting now to prevent this health crisis from getting worse. Everyone is tired of this pandemic and restrictions on our lives. I’m tired, and I know you are tired too. But as we saw earlier this year, these mitigation measures work. I am confident that we can come together as one Commonwealth to get this virus under control and save lives.”
The following new measures are now in effect:
1) Reduction in public and private gatherings: All public and private in-person gatherings must be limited to 25 individuals, down from the current cap of 250 people. This includes outdoor and indoor settings.
2) Expansion of mask mandate: All Virginians aged five and over are required to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces. This expands the current mask mandate, which has been in place in Virginia since May and requires all individuals aged 10 and over to wear face coverings in indoor public settings.
3) Strengthened enforcement within essential retail businesses: All essential retail businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies, must adhere to statewide guidelines for physical distancing, face coverings, and enhanced cleaning. While certain essential retail businesses have been required to adhere to these regulations as a best practice, violations will now be enforceable through the Virginia Department of Health as a Class One misdemeanor.
4) On-site alcohol curfew: The on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol is prohibited after 10 pm in any restaurant, dining establishment, food court, brewery, microbrewery, distillery, winery, or tasting room. All such establishments must close by midnight. Virginia law does not distinguish between restaurants and bars, but under current restrictions, individuals that choose to consume alcohol prior to 10 pm must be served as in a restaurant and remain seated at tables six feet apart.
Virginia is averaging 1,500 newly-reported COVID-19 cases per day, up from a statewide peak of approximately 1,200 in May. While Southwest Virginia has experienced a spike in the number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases, all five of the Commonwealth’s health regions are currently reporting a positivity rate over five percent. Although hospital capacity remains stable, hospitalizations have increased statewide by more than 35 percent in the last four weeks.
Last Tuesday, Governor Northam announced new contracts with three laboratories as part of the Commonwealth’s OneLabNetwork, which will significantly increase Virginia’s public health testing capacity. Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, and Sentara Healthcare in Norfolk will directly support high-priority outbreak investigations, community testing events, and testing in congregate settings, with a goal of being able to perform 7,000 per day by the end of the year.
The full text of the Executive Orders implementing these new rules is available here.
For information about COVID-19 in Virginia, click here (vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus).
EXPECTED LEGISLATION FOR THE 2021 SESSION
1) Governor Northam Announces Support for Legislation Legalizing Marijuana
Governor Northam announced this week his support for setting up a regulated marketplace for legal marijuana.
When I supported legalization in my 2015 election primary, it was considered a radical idea. But I've been moving the ball inch by inch since being elected: First, my medical marijuana proposal became law. Then last year, a bill along the lines of my proposal to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana was enacted.
But my ultimate goal was always legalization for adult recreational use. To be clear, I've never tried the drug, never intend to, and don't want the stench of marijuana or tobacco smoke anywhere around me. So I will continue to fight to make sure that public smoking is prohibited, along with youth smoking and driving while high.
But while I'm not a personal fan of the substance, I don't think adult personal choices should be criminalized when they don't harm anyone else. A just-issued report of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) found that Black Virginians are arrested and convicted for marijuana use at more than three times the rate of white Virginians, even though drug use is virtually the same among all Virginians. JLARC also found that legalization could generate more than $300 million per year in tax revenues by the fifth year of operations, reduce marijuana arrests by 84 percent, and create more than 11,000 jobs.
I was very pleased to learn Governor Northam has come around to my view, and I look forward to copatroning and supporting this legislation moving forward.
2) Flood Relief
I met with Mayor Justin Wilson and several constituents in Del Ray this week concerned about the massive rain in July and September that led to expensive indoor flooding throughout the City. We discussed relaxing state laws that restrict what the City of Alexandria can do to mitigate flood damage and working together to get aid to those affected. We also agreed to work to set up a legislative task force to study the issue.
In a time of climate change and extremely reduced budgets due to COVID, this is no easy matter to address cheaply or quickly. But I'm committed to doing what I can do. At the end of the day, the only branch of government with sufficient resources to truly address the size and scope of this problem is the Federal Government, and I urge you to contact your federal representatives Senator Tim Kaine, Senator Mark Warner, and Congressman Don Beyer to ask for flood relief for Virginia be included in the proposed National Infrastructure bill.
3) Helping Local Government Meet Virtually
In preparation for the 2020 session, before I had ever heard of COVID-19, I drafted a bill (HB321) to make it easier for local officials to attend to sick family members while still conducting their business virtually. This family-friendly measure was brought to me by Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, the Vice-Mayor of Alexandria.
You may recall the measure passed the House with bipartisan support, but the Senate wanted it to be heard by the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) Council before passing it into law. I've now met several times with a subcommittee of the Council, and I'm confident that so far, we have a solid bill heading into 2021 that helps local officials serve their constituents virtually both in ordinary settings and during a pandemic.
4) Electing the President by National Popular Vote
I've long argued that the People of the United States should elect the President of the United States, and the person with the most votes should win the election. I repeat that argument in my video above.
My legislation to accomplish this (HB177) passed in the House in 2020 but was "carried over" to 2021 by the Senate. I'll be back to re-present the bill this year.
You can watch my complete argument before the House Privileges and Elections Committee here or in the Senate here. If there's one thing the 2020 Election taught us, it's that a person who wins by 6 million votes should easily become President of the United States.
If you missed my video about Election 2020, you can watch it here:
And if you have any questions about Election 2020, COVID relief, the Special Session, the 2021 Session, or anything else, just ask them tomorrow at:
Sunday, November 22, 1-3 pm
Join and download Zoom for FREE by clicking here. If you don't have access to Zoom, you can also call in to join the discussion: (929) 205-6099. (Meeting ID: 825 7153 7323. Passcode: 620220)
With our Special Session adjourned, and the election done with,
we set our eyes on the 2021 legislative session.
Come recap the election with me and discuss what the future holds via Zoom.
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