Mark in the News
Please make sure to check out the left-hand column in this and every newsletter for stories about your Delegate in the media each week. Every single story features in some respect, big or small, something I am trying to do for the people of Alexandria, Arlington, or Fairfax. This week, my work was mentioned in twelve(!) articles over the five-day work week.
From the Floor of the House of Delegates
My Floor Speech Condemning the Trump Travel Ban
When the Democratic Leadership of the House of Delegates asked me to speak out against last week's Executive Order, I spoke straight from the heart. I compared the current ban on lawfully admitted and vetted refugees, fleeing mass murder in Syria, to the 1939 attempted exodus of German Jews, turned away at our border and sent back to the gas chambers. I called on every Delegate -- and particularly Republicans who have fallen silent -- to speak out in defense of American values and our immigrant history. I urged them to reject fear. To say, "Never Again!"
Click above to watch.
After the speech, I was surprised and extremely gratified to receive a sustained standing ovation from both the Democrats in the Chamber and the visitors in the Gallery. (Although unfortunately you cannot see it in the video because the House Camera cuts to the Speaker as I finish, you can certainly hear it!) As noted in The Washington Post, many Republicans clapped too. I think I touched a nerve: the video of the speech has thus far organically reached more than 50,000 on Facebook and has been viewed by more than 16,000. Thank you to my fellow Delegates, the many visitors, and the several people from the Governor's Office who came up to me all this week to endorse the remarks and stand up for refugees.
Defending Our Immigrants
Additionally, many of you contacted me about a number of bills negatively impacting immigrants. Thankfully, two of these terrible bills died in committee (HB 2001: an effort to use public universities to track down immigrants and turn them in to the federal government; and HB 1723: an anti-refugee bill). Another bill, HB 2000, trying to nullify "sanctuary cities," incorporated another anti-immigrant bill (HB 2236) and is headed to the floor next week. I will vote against it.
HB 1468, which prohibits correctional officials from releasing incarcerated immigrants after they've served their time passed through the House over the objections of Democrats. I expect it to die in the Senate or be vetoed by the Governor.
As for HB 2002 (requiring the Government to track down every refugee in Virginia), I led the charge for the Democrats against this legislation on the House Floor.
Guns in the Home Hurt Victims of Domestic Violence
The Democratic House Caucus asked me to challenge the patron of HB 1852 (making it easier to put guns in homes with domestic violence) and speak out against the bill on the House Floor.
Fighting Discrimination Against Gay and Lesbian Married Couples
I also asked some tough questions of the patron of HB2025, which purports to protect those who want to discriminate against gay and lesbian married couples, and gave a real-life example of the kind of discrimination this bill would cause against loving couples who might be prevented from seeing each other as one of them was dying in the hospital.
My Last Bills Before Crossover
Last week was another busy week in the General Assembly, as the House of Delegates rushed to get every single House bill out of committee -- or kill them -- by Friday's deadline. I had 14 bills this year, plus a Constitutional Amendment and a Budget Amendment.
For a complete list of bills I have introduced and where they currently stand in the legislative process, click here.
This week the last seven of my proposals saw action in Committee or Subcommittee. Below, I will describe what happened to each bill and provide links to video footage so you can watch the proceedings yourself. (I committed to filming hearings on my legislation before committees when I co-founded the Virginia Transparency Caucus last year).
Starting with the good news, one of my bills was reported out of the Appropriations Committee,
1) Preserving Evidence for Survivors of Child Sex Abuse (HB 2127)
As I shared last week, when the bill was heard and approved by the Courts of Justice Committee, under current law, evidence recovered from the rape of a child ten years of age and younger is only stored until that child reaches the age of 20. It takes a lot of self-awareness and courage (and usually some financial independence) before a young adult can process what happened to her or him as a child and have the fortitude to prosecute what is all too often a family member or step-parent. My bill would extend that deadline to age 28 -- ten years after the survivor reaches the age of majority -- and would thus match the current law for adult survivors of sexual violence, which preserves such evidence for ten years. The bill would also allow any survivor, upon written request, to require that evidence be preserved for an additional ten-year period.
I’m pleased to say my bill passed both the Appropriations Public Safety Subcommittee and the full Appropriations Committee. This means my bill is expected to be voted on by the full House of Delegates on Tuesday, February 7.
and one bill came very, very close.
2) Tyler’s Law: In Custody Cases, Courts Should Consider Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Occurring Outside the Family (HB 2128)
As I explained in last week's newsletter, the Virginia Code currently allows courts in custody cases to consider a parent’s history of family abuse or sexual abuse in determining the best interests of the child. So far so good. But what about a parent who has a history of abusing children other than his own? Or a history of domestic violence to other intimate partners? Surely anyone who commits this other abuse is not a good parent, and that factor should at least be considered in Family Court.
Some family lawyers, whose clients include abusive parents, prefer to prevent this change to the law. However, I found several other experienced family lawyers from all across Virginia who came forward to advocate for the legislation and submitted letters to the Courts of Justice Committee. Guardians ad Litem (lawyers appointed by the court to represent children) have been particularly supportive of my bill.
Fourteen-year-old Tyler again drove with his mom five hours from Abingdon in Southwest Virginia to tell the Committee how if my legislation had been law, he would not have suffered the terrible and repeated beatings by his father he was forced to endure.
Until the final moment, neither I nor anyone on the Committee knew which way the vote would go. I knew we were a Democrat short due to Delegate McClellan's move to the Senate, and I was sickened to see that one of the Republican Delegates who endorsed the bill was out that day due to the death of his uncle.
In the end, it was a tie. The 21-person committee split 10-10 with one absence. Seven of the Republicans supported the bill (but one was absent). Eight opposed. Four of the Democrats supported the bill. Two opposed. And a tie unfortunately was one vote too short.
As devastating as it was to lose in a tie vote, I am extremely confident we will prevail when I bring this measure back next year. We will have one more Democrat, and we will have the one Republican who has committed his support but could not make committee on Friday. I will not give up. I will continue to press this year after year until we finally pass "Tyler's Law."
My budget amendment will be decided this afternoon, (Yes, on Sunday)
3) Expanding Broadband Internet in Rural Virginia (Budget Amendment) The Virginia Telecommunication Initiative is a public-private partnership to improve broadband access in underserved areas. Unfortunately, it is way oversubscribed. We only appropriated $1 million dollars last year. But $4 million was requested by dozens of communities, which (when combined with private dollars) would have provided a strategic $7.5 million boost to Virginia's struggling rural economies. My amendment would have upped the appropriation this year from $1 million to $2.5 million.
The Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee was surprised by my amendment. Didn't I represent urban Alexandria and Arlington and Fairfax County, he asked? How would this help my constituents?
I replied frankly that it didn't help my constituents but that my constituents were concerned about the suffering in rural Virginia. Lack of broadband prevents rural Virginians from having the prosperity we enjoy in the 45th District. Satellite service is expensive and far less effective, making it hard to sell a product over the Internet and virtually impossible to telecommute. I see Rural Broadband as the modern-day analogue to President Lyndon Johnson's "rural electrification program" of 50 years ago.
I believe we Democrats need to look beyond our urban and suburban bases to help serve the needs of rural Americans, but not with coal subsidies and other wasteful fossil fuel tax credits that help dying and dirty businesses at the expense of working people, the environment, and climate change. We need useful clean 21st infrastructure like broadband internet. We need to show that even if some Republican Delegates are not serving the needs of their constituents, we are.
The final proposed budget is expected to come out this afternoon.
And three pieces of progressive legislation died in subcommittee.
4) Republicans Killed All Democratic Constitutional Amendments in One Block Vote (Including Bills on Gerrymandering, Restoration of Rights, and Allowing the Governor a Second Term (HJ699))
On Monday morning, the House Constitutional Subcommittee was scheduled to vote on my constitutional amendment to allow Governors to serve consecutive terms. However, in a clear violation of House rules that require individual votes on measures, the subcommittee voted to table this amendment, along with dozens of constitutional amendments, in one massive block vote. These amendments included, among many others, measures to bring a nonpartisan redistricting process to Virginia and to restore voting rights to ex-felons.
5) Stop Predatory Towing! (HB2132)
I've received many constituent complaints about predatory towing. Towing operators take advantage of every trick in the book to take hundreds of dollars out of the pockets of hard-working people for the smallest of mistakes. It also makes them a lot of money, which is why their lobbyists are so powerful in Richmond. (But they know they can't buy me off!) Arlington County has taken steps to reduce towing operators' power by bringing in more members of the general public and the local business community to serve on their towing advisory board, providing a good balance of interests. But state law won't let them vote on the "official towing advisory committee". My bill would have given localities like Arlington the flexibility to have this equal voting balance on their boards if they so choose. Unfortunately, the towing industry came out in full force to defeat this bill.
Here's the rub. The board is advisory. So if the towing operators would just allow Arlington to do it its way, they could have some influence over Arlington. Since they've insisted on doing it their way, the advisory power of their "state-approved" towing board will be nil.
I have suggested to Arlington officials that they completely ignore the state-constituted advisory council and set up their own. Then they can get the advice from the people they want. The useless state-mandated council can send off reports until their computers turn blue, but Arlington County Board doesn't have to read them. Arlington can just rely on its own Arlington Towing Advisory Board.
And thus the tow operators will have cut off their nose to spite their face. By killing this legislation, they will ironically weaken, not strengthen, their clout in Arlington. And I'm fine with that!
Good Legislative Lesson: it's usually better to negotiate a compromise that everyone can live with than to force everything to be your way. That often leads to loopholes by the unhappy party, raw feelings, and unintended consequences.
6) Medical Marijuana (HB 2135)
Having tried and failed to decriminalize Virginia's marijuana laws last year, I tried for the more modest goal of medical marijuana legalization this year. And when I saw that going nowhere (with no Republican support), I amended the bill to try something even more modest but still incredibly important: allowing cancer patients to use oils extracted from the cannabis plant for their treatment.
These oils are not psychoactive in any way, but peer-reviewed National Institute of Health and FDA studies show they actually stop cancerous tumors from spreading by killing cancer cells. This is big news on the medical frontier. Oils from the cannabis plant can be used not only to counter the poisonous effects of chemotherapy, but they can actually start to attack the cancer itself!
All across the United States, in the 29 states and DC that allow medical marijuna, cancer patients are trying these exciting new treatments. But in Virginia, instead of using cannabidiol, cancer patients are forced to use more dangerous and addictive drugs like prescription opiates to treat their illness.
But there's some good news here. My work before the subcommittee, including providing detailed scientific studies, persuaded some Republicans who had never supported us on this issue before to vote with us. Although we didn't win the fight this year, the momentum is on our side. I am already working with advocates on how to proceed when we are not in session to maximize our chances for 2018.
And last, but definitely not least, was a bill I really enjoyed writing.
I knew it would be killed quickly.
But I also knew it would pressure our President to adhere to the Constitution.
If not in Virginia, than at least in some important blue states...
7) Requiring Presidential Disclosure of Tax Returns and Emoluments (HB 2444)
Of all the bills I introduced this year, the one with the most remote chance of passing got the most press attention. (See the articles in the left-hand column above.) HB 2444 would have required any person wishing to run for President and be on the ballot in Virginia to sign a statement, under penalty of perjury, that he or she had disclosed his or her federal tax returns for the last 10 years and that he or she had disclosed foreign emoluments (presents or gifts over $1000).
For more than 40 years prior to the current occupant of the White House, Presidential candidates in both major parties had voluntarily disclosed their tax returns. Voters rely on this information in making their decisions. And the overwhelming majority of Americans -- Democrats, Republicans, and Independents -- all agree that this minimal disclosure should be necessary. My bill would have required Donald Trump to do as all other candidates had done for almost half a century if he wanted to be on the Virginia ballot in 2020.
But while the tax-return part of the legislation got all the press, it was actually the other part of the bill that I believe was required by the US Constitution. Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8 provides:
No Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust [in the United States] shall, without the Consent of Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State."
In other words, the US President, cannot (without Congressional consent) take foreign payments. Thus, according to press reports, the current President is already violating the Constitution. And my bill would have required Virginia to force him to obey it.
No wonder the Republicans killed the bill quickly with the ultimate death sentence for a bill: PBI (Pass By Indefinitely).
I had presented them a clear choice between (1) following the Constitution and granting disclosure to the American People or (2) defending the President, right or wrong.
I was not surprised at the choice the subcommittee made.
Nancy Kula and Sue Bodilly, Alexandria constituents from the American Association
of University Women, discussed pending legislation with me. We agreed on everything.
Sade Oshinubi, Director of Political Engagement for the Northern Virginia Urban League and her colleague,
Treasurer Aminata Ly talked with me about legislation and community issues.
And then I introduced them in the Visitors' Gallery.
Anthony Postert, a constituent from the Fairfax County portion of the district, came to Richmond
to shadow me for two days this week. He is part of a leadership development program
at a federal agency and wanted to see, behind the scenes, how I get things done.
I also joined a panel of Arlington elected officials
when Leadership Arlington came to Richmond for the day.
Alexandria Democratic Committee Meeting
Tomorrow (Monday), February 6
3801 W. Braddock Road, Alexandria
Mark's Monthly Meetup
Sunday, February 26
2 pm - 4 pm
2615 Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray (Alexandria)
Mark your calendars for the next Monthly Meetup at the end of February.
By the time of that Meetup, in just three short weeks,
my entire session in Richmond will already be over.
Come have lunch with me and hear how it went!
It is always my honor and privilege to serve you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Serving Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax
in Virginia's 45th District