Mark in the News:
VOTE NO on Amendment 1
How the proposed Amendment One could change redistricting in Virginia
The Cavalier Daily
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Richmond, VA 23219
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Alexandria, VA 22314
After a period of two months -- longer than our normal short session! -- the General Assembly's Special Session has concluded. We have nothing left to do except consider any Governor's amendments and vetoes to the long list of legislation we passed. I detailed many of our successes in my last newsletter, which you can read by clicking here.
And on November 3, a week from Tuesday -- a mere 10 days from now -- the United States will undergo its most important election in our lifetimes. You can find out where to vote in the City of Alexandria and how to vote early by clicking here or by reading to the bottom of this newsletter (where I also have information on Arlington and Fairfax).
Let's discuss it all! Coming up tomorrow (Sunday) from 1 to 3 pm is my traditional Mark's Monthly Meetup. We've been doing them since I first ran for office in 2015, and neither rain, nor sleet, nor COVID-19 can stop them. (Except, ahem, we do them virtually now.)
So come join us tomorrow afternoon and let me know what's on your mind. I'm happy to chat about the Special Session, the 2020 Election, Amendment 1, or anything else that's on your mind.
Mark's Monthly Meetup
Sunday, October 25, 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
Mark's Monthly Meetup in February 2020
Mark's Monthly Meetup in August 2020
(Can you spot the difference between MMM in February and in August?)
Final Accomplishments in the Last Week
Our beautiful Virginia State Capitol lit up at night.
But we weren't there.
For the first time in its 401-year history,
the Virginia House of Delegates met virtually.
These are the bills that passed out of conference last week.
HB5050 allows the Commonwealth to purchase Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for private providers (with reimbursement) to lower their costs.
HB5068 protects emergency relief payments from being garnished by creditors. I was proud to be a chief co-patron for this bill carried by Delegate Hala Ayala.
HB5064 protects tenants from eviction through July 1, 2021 under the condition that they work with landlords to agree on payment plans.
SB5081 requires the Department of Health (VDH) to make public information about outbreaks of communicable diseases at any school, summer camp, medical care facility, residential or day program, and any other facility licensed or operated by any agency of the Commonwealth. I've been advocating for this measure since April as part of my role as Chairman of the Virginia Transparency Caucus.
Policing and Criminal Justice Reform
HB5043 creates a Marcus Alert system to ensure that mental health professionals respond to mental health crises. When someone suffers a mental health crisis, the best responders are those trained in mental health. Law enforcement rarely have the appropriate training, and they are usually unnecessary to resolve the situation, as force should be only used as a last resort. This legislation makes it more likely the right people with the right training will respond to Virginians in need.
HB5049 demilitarizes police departments by prohibiting the acquisition and use of certain weapons by law enforcement agencies. I preferred the House's stricter prohibitions on tear gas, but this was the strongest bill the Senate was willing to pass.
HB5055 gives subpoena power to civilian review panels (CRPs) to increase community accountability of the police. The House version of this bill, which I preferred, mandated localities create Civilian Review Panels and applied them to all Virginia law enforcement. The Virginia Senate did not want Sheriffs and their deputies to be reviewed by CRPs, nor did they want CRPs to be required. As with the police reform measure I described above, the weaker bill passed because it was the furthest the Senate was willing to go. Still a good bill, but it could have been a lot better.
HB5099 bans no-knock search warrants. This will protect both civilians and the police executing warrants from the element of surprise that has too often led to the killing of innocent people.
Rest in peace, Breonna Taylor.
Breonna Taylor was killed in her own home by police
who barged into her home in the middle of the night without warning.
She had committed no crime, but she was killed anyway
when her boyfriend (thinking it was an intruder) defended their home.
Not a single member of the police was punished for killing this innocent woman.
Breonna Taylor is dead today, solely because of a no-knock warrant.
Soon, this odious and dangerous practice will be banned in Virginia.
HB5104 strengthens the disclosure and vetting requirements of police officers. Prior employers must provide information about their officers' misconduct to make sure bad cops don't get rehired elsewhere. I had hoped to combine this measure with my Good Apples bill to make sure bad cops are reported to their superior officers, but it unfortunately did not pass during the Special Session. (See below.)
HB5148 allows people in prison earn time off their sentences for good behavior.
SB5007 transfers criminal sentencing responsibilities to the judge unless a defendant specifically requests a jury sentencing. This was the biggest criminal justice reform of all.
Virginia and Kentucky are the only two states in the United States where if a defendant asks for a jury trial, the jury is required not only to try the case but also to hand down the sentence. Unlike judges -- who have the benefit of sentencing guidelines -- juries have no such guidance and often give wildly disparate sentences. Due to the vagaries of jury sentencing, criminal defendants (even innocent ones) currently feel compelled to either take a tough prosecutor's plea deal or opt for a trial before a judge. Their lawyers tell them that, under Virginia law, most criminal defendants would be foolish to exercise their constitutional right to a jury trial for fear of rolling the dice with jury sentences. The upshot of this archaic law (which dates back to 1796!) is that Virginia has extremely few criminal jury trials.
Until now, that is. When this law goes into effect, Virginia will join 48 other states that allow juries to determine whether a criminal defendant is innocent or guilty but still allow (in the defendant's discretion) a judge to impose the sentence. Mandatory jury sentencing in Virginia was a centuries=old relic of a bygone era. Finally, we have left Kentucky in the dust.
The Good Apples Bill and Expungement Bill
Die in Conference
In my last newsletter, I told you all about my "Good Apples Bill", which was supported by racial justice advocates, justice reform advocates, and police chiefs across the Commonwealth. The legislation would have required law enforcement officers to protect and serve the public by making them subject to discipline if they covered up the criminal activity and misconduct of their fellow officers. The measure would also have protected Rainbow (LGBTQ) Virginians from bias-based discrimination at the hands of law enforcement.
I talked about it on the House's virtual floor. You can watch my speech by clicking the image below:
Click above to hear how the Good Apples Bill would ban this harassment in Virginia.
It's not clear why any Senate Democrat would support a police cover-up of criminal activity or misconduct, particularly when "good apples" in the police force supported the reform. I think the bill may have failed because it went too much under the radar. You can help me pass it when I reintroduce it next year. Please contact Equality Virginia and encourage them to make this a priority next year. Please contact your Senator as well.
The Good Apples Act was not only the big missed opportunity this year. The House and Senate conferees were also unable to come to an agreement on expungement legislation. This was very disappointing for many of my House Democratic colleagues and me to see the work of Majority Leader Charniele Herring, which tracked with recommendations from the Crime Commission, fail to be enacted.
I've been introducing a variety of expungement bills since my first legislative session in 2016. People deserve a chance at a new life. They should not be weighed down forever because of past transgressions. How can we expect anyone to re-enter society and lead a good productive life when, long after serving their time, they continued to be weighed down with a permanent millstone hung around their neck?
I am not giving up either on the Good Apples Bill or on expungement reform. You can help me by urging Senators to pass this legislation during our regular session in 2021.
Virginia Has a New Budget
The pandemic unfortunately led to a record $2.8 billion revenue shortfall over the next two years. The House and Senate passed a new budget to reflect this difficult reality. We in the House focused on public health, protecting workers, keeping people in their homes with working utilities, and education. We allocated virtually all of the $3.1 billion Virginia received in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds.
You can learn all the details of the budget conference report that we passed last week by checking out the powerpoint presentation linked below.
Some of the local needs I fought for include $25 million in funding for clean up of Alexandria's combined sewer system and $2.4 million in funding to help the city purchase Freedom House and turn it into a world-class museum to teach the reality and horror of slavery to future generations.
This unassuming building on Duke Street in Old Town Alexandria
once housed the nation's leading slave traders.
It will be turned into a museum on the evils of slavery.
A better future starts with recognizing the sins of our past.
Have You Voted?
No excuse necessary.
And you do not need a witness signature on your absentee ballots.
Making it easier to vote has long been one of my biggest priorities, and I was glad that with our new Democratic majority, we were finally able to make it happen.
Early in-person voting continues from today until October 31 (except Sundays).
There are four satellite locations where residents of the City of Alexandria can vote from 8 am to 5 pm today and next Saturday:
- George Washington Middle School,
- Minnie Howard,
- Charles Beatley Library, and
- the Alexandria Registrar's office at 132 N. Royal Street in Old Town.
Beatley Library and the Registrar's Office are also open all next week Monday through Friday.
If you vote early, you might just see me at the polls.
Please say hello and let me know you read my newsletter!
Access your Virginia voter record to update your registration, apply to vote absentee, and view your polling place, election district, absentee ballot status, and voting history.
Important Dates for the Election:
Representative Bobby Scott Urges You to Vote NO on 1
"If the whole rationale for the constitutional amendment is based on the belief that legislators cannot be trusted to draw legislative districts, why does the plan have a Commission totally composed of legislators and nominees of legislators?"
Rather than eliminating gerrymandering,
the Amendment will virtually guarantee gerrymandering."
It's not just Virginia's Democratic Party, labor, good government anti-gerrymandering leaders like Linda Periello, and racial justice groups like the NAACP that strongly urge you to vote NO on Amendment 1.
The Dean of Virginia's delegation to Congress, Representative Bobby Scott (VA-03) has issued a well-reasoned statement strongly urging you to vote No on 1. In fact, it's so good, I reprinted it in its entirety below.
VOTE NO ON QUESTION #1
By Congressman Bobby Scott
This year when you go to vote, whether that’s early or on Election Day, you will face Question 1 on your ballot asking whether you approve of a new state constitutional amendment on redistricting. I’m asking you to vote no.
I support fair and independent redistricting to ensure that voters can choose their politicians, rather than having politicians choose their voters. The proposed amendment on your ballot this year actually enshrines politicians’ dominance of the process, perpetuating the process of politicians choosing their voters.
Any time we amend Virginia’s constitution, it should be to make people’s lives better with at least a little bit of progress. This amendment fails to meet the mark. Instead of being an independent commission as it is advertised, Amendment 1 keeps the power with the politicians. Just read the details: of the proposed 16-member Commission, eight members would be legislators chosen by the partisan political party leadership of the General Assembly. And to add insult to injury, the so-called "citizen” members of the commission have to be selected from lists prepared by those same political party leaders. In other words, if this amendment passes, legislators selected by partisan party legislative leaders and people nominated by those leaders will be responsible for drawing political districts. If the whole rationale for the constitutional amendment is based on the belief that legislators cannot be trusted to draw legislative districts, why does the plan have a Commission totally composed of legislators and nominees of legislators?
Rather than eliminating gerrymandering, the Amendment will virtually guarantee gerrymandering. The four Democratic and four Republican legislators on the Commission would have a strong incentive to hold their votes to obtain a gerrymander that protects their political power. The fine print in the Amendment provides that a plan must achieve such a super majority vote that any three legislators alone can veto a Congressional plan. Making matters worse, two Delegates or two Senators alone could veto the plans for their respective chambers. The only way to achieve that kind of super majority is to make everybody happy with a self-serving incumbency protection gerrymander.
Even the Princeton Gerrymandering Project noted the amendment doesn’t require diverse representation on the commission and noted the slim provisions in the amendment “are not enough to guide the Commission’s work.”
And if the Commission cannot agree on a plan, the Amendment provides that the Virginia Supreme Court shall establish the districts. That provision empowers a few Commissioners, who might actually prefer the Supreme Court to draw the lines, to threaten to veto the plan, if their demands are not met.
We have seen what happens when politicians are allowed to draw political district lines and the results have been disastrous. In 2016, the Third Congressional district, which I have the honor of representing, was ordered redrawn by the courts, after they ruled that the lines were illegal. Barely three years later, House of Delegates districts across Hampton Roads and Central Virginia were ordered redrawn by the Courts for the same reason. These rulings were not unusual - Courts have regularly invalidated legislative districts in Virginina during the past 40 years.
Amendment 1 isn’t fair, it isn’t equitable, and it isn’t independent. It also is NOT our only option. Governor Northam and the General Assembly can easily establish a truly independent Commission by statute to draw maps in 2021, while we work to pass a constitutional amendment that gets this right and actually guarantees a process free of pressure from politicians. Or Governor Northam alone can use his veto pen’s power to refuse to sign any maps, unless they are drawn by a panel of independent citizens. In fact, he promised to do exactly that when he ran for Governor.
When politicians are in charge of redistricting, their partisan political interests will prevail, not the interests of citizens, especially minorities. To truly make our democracy work for all of us, the redistricting process has to be independent, with independent citizens in charge. Together, we can make the changes that we need, so that we all will have a voice in the decisions that impact our lives. That process starts with voting NO on Amendment 1.
For additional information, read University of Richmond Law Professor Harry Chambers' column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch here: The truth about Amendment 1.
"[T]he amendment’s move toward nonpartisan redistricting is insignificant.
In addition, amending the Virginia Constitution entrenches Republican power
as Virginia demographically shifts toward Democrats.
Consequently, rather than voting on principle,Democrats are more likely just getting rolled in plain sight."
If you care about fair elections in Virginia, join the No on 1 team today.
Fight the right-wing out-of-state big money interests that have invested millions to gerrymander Virginia!
- Sign up to volunteer with us via this form here.
- Fair Districts VA is texting out the No vote. Sign up to "textbank" here.
See you at the polls!
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