From the Floor of the House of Delegates
This week, the House started off with a two-day marathon voting session. On Monday, we were in session until after 7:00pm. By the end of Tuesday's session, we had discussed and voted on hundreds of bills.
My Bills After "Crossover"
This week, two of my bills passed the House: (1) my bill to preserve evidence of sexual assault and (2) the bill I chief co-patroned with Republican Delegate Terry Kilgore to protect Virginians' First Amendment right to protest. Both bills are moving on to the Senate.
Unfortunately, my budget amendment to bring more broadband internet to rural Virginia was rejected by the Appropriations Committee.
Below, I will describe what happened to each and provide relevant links to video footage.
1) Preserving Evidence for Survivors of Sexual Assault (HB 2127)
If you've been following along in prior newsletters, you know all about my bill to extend the time in which evidence of sexual assault is preserved. I've described in detail what happened as the bill passed through four committees (subcommittee and full committee in both the Courts of Justice and the Appropriations Committee) and provided video. If you missed anything, prior newsletters are stored on my website.
On Monday, I presented the bill on the House Floor. On Tuesday, the bill passed the House unanimously. Now the bill moves on to the Senate.
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 economic 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 reaching 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 also allows any survivor, upon written request, to require that sexual assault evidence be preserved for an additional ten-year period.
Mark in the News
Please check out the left-hand column in this and every newsletter for stories about your Delegate in the media each week. Every story features something, big or small, that I am trying to do for the people of Alexandria, Arlington, or Fairfax.
2) Protecting the First Amendment with an Anti-SLAPP Law (HB 2446/HB1941)
People should have the right to protest Trump, just as they had the right to protest Obama...and just as I will protest the Richard Spencer's new office in Old Town. (Join us in one hour TODAY at 12:30 pm at 1001 King St.)
In order to protect this right, I joined forces with Republican Delegate Terry Kilgore who proposed similar legislation to my HB 2446. I am now Chief Co-Patron of his bill, HB 1941, which passed the House this week 74-23 and moves on to the Senate.
I, along with 50 Arlington protesters, six fellow legislators and some local officials, got slapped with a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) last year.
We seven legislators who represent Arlington jointly signed a letter to discourage a gun store from opening up near a day-care center in a residential area of Arlington. And I spoke at a lively protest at a nearby public park, attended by more than a hundred citizens who agreed with us.
In response, the gun store actually sued to shut us up! Even worse than going after public officials like me, this store filed suit against more than fifty citizens who did nothing other than attend a protest in a public park two blocks away from the store.
It was a frivolous lawsuit. But all 64 of us had to seek legal counsel to go into court and file motions to dismiss it. The gun store didn't even try to make an argument against us. They knew they would lose their ridiculous lawsuit. So after shaking us down to try to get some money in settlement from us (ha!), this store never even filed a response to our motion to dismiss the lawsuit. They just dismissed their lawsuit the day before it was to be heard.
But still, their awful goal was achieved. Of course they had no intention of trying to win an impossible lawsuit; their goal was to persuade ordinary citizens and lawmakers not to exercise our First Amendment rights by making it expensive to do so. I knew the lawsuit was a misuse of the court system, and I never stopped criticizing the store, but many of the other defendants did quiet their critiques, and I was strongly encouraged to stop speaking out as well.
The point of my legislation with Kilgore is to protect non-violent, lawful protesters. No one should be sued for speaking out in a public place on a matter of public concern. No one should have to tamp down their opinions and stop giving truthful public criticism because they fear being sued.
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 of the Commonwealth. 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.
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 and the environment. 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 House Appropriations Committee was puzzled I would even bring this Amendment. Didn't I represent an urban community? I explained that we in Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax care about rural communities. I think rural communities need to understand that if their Republican representatives will not help them gain access to usable internet that would bring jobs to their region, we Democrats stand ready to do so.
For a complete list of bills I have introduced and where they currently stand in the legislative process, click here.
On Thursday, the House passed its version of the budget to fund everything the Commonwealth does through June 30, 2018. It was a tough year, since state revenue has come in well under original projections, requiring some painful cuts. However, I’m happy to report that we held the line on funding for K-12 public education, which will not see any cuts from the increase that we passed last year. This much needed funding will help ensure that our teachers have the resources they need to give our children the education that they deserve. We were also able to restore $20 million that had been cut from in-state undergraduates at state universities. This money will help support our students as they attend one of the many great public universities here in Virginia. Hopefully, next year will bring in more revenue, and allow us to provide even more for our schools.
I’m also happy to report an increase of $1.5 million in state funds for local domestic violence and sexual assault victim services. This will bring us another $6 million in federal matching funds. It's federal grants like these that provided the funding for the 24/7 SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner) program in Northern Virginia that Senator Barbara Favola, Arlington County Board Member Katie Cristol, and I put together. (More on this later.) The budget also includes over $5 million to begin same-day access to behavioral health services, which will help keep people in the community and out of crisis care.
Additionally, some of you may remember that I stood up on the House floor last year to oppose a bill that would have taken money away from domestic violence beds to fund firearms training for victims. Last year, my intensive questioning of the patron of the bill on the House Floor led to a promise that the fund would not be depleted. The promise to me was kept: when a new version of the bill was passed this year, they found the money from another source. Thanks to my efforts, domestic violence victims will not lose much needed beds in order to get them the firearms training Republicans want to provide them.
Standing with Planned Parenthood
This week saw yet another shameful attack by Republicans against Planned Parenthood. They passed HB 2264, a bill designed to defund Planned Parenthood and make it more difficult for Virginia's women to access the healthcare that they need. I will always stand with Planned Parenthood to ensure that women can make the choices that are right for them. The Assembly should not be wasting time trying to get involved in decisions that are best left to women and their doctors. I voted against this terrible bill both in committee and on the House floor, and I’m committed to doing everything I can to make sure that it is not passed into law. I'm confident Governor McAuliffee will veto the bill, and you can count on me to vote to sustain that veto when I get the chance.
On the bright side, HB 2267, a bill sponsored by Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn which I co-patroned, also passed the House. HB 2267 requires any health benefit plan that provides coverage for hormonal contraceptives to cover up to a 12-month supply at one time. This is particularly critical for low-income women and those with limited transportation options. Research shows that women who receive a one-year supply of oral contraceptives are more likely to continuously use contraceptives, reducing abortions by 46 percent. There is a way to reduce abortions without in any way interfering with a woman's right to choose, and I was glad to be a part of it.
Protecting the Affordable Care Act
Republicans also passed HB 2411 to repeal all the provisions that Virginia has passed to comply with the Affordable Care Act since 2011. We won’t let Congress repeal the ACA without a fight, and we certainly won’t let the General Assembly repeal these good health care laws we’ve passed here in Virginia. I voted against this bill along with each of my House Democratic colleagues, and again, I'm confident the Governor will veto it. We continue to do our utmost to prevent Virginians from losing access to health care.
Fighting Discrimination Against the LGBT Community
Equality Virginia was in Richmond this week. I was proud to stand with Governor McAuliffe, as he showed his support and promised to veto any legislation that discriminates against LGBT Virginians.
Constituents from the Jewish Community Relations Council came to visit.
It turns out I had already been leading the fight on the issues they came to discuss with me!
Constituents from the Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
I, along with other Alexandria legislators (Delegate Herring is next to me in the back of the photo),
sponsored a luncheon with the Parent Leadership Training Institute.
They do great work to help parents in Alexandria.
I was glad to welcome Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam yesterday to the 45th District at a packed ACDC breakfast at Busboys and Poets in Shirlington. (That's the back of Ralph's head.)
And last, but far from least...
The TC Williams Athletic Hall of Fame!
It was an honor to be included in the TC Williams Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Friday night. In addition to the impressive athletes, the Junior ROTC and the musicians made the evening ceremony special for everyone.
IN ONE HOUR IN OLD TOWN!
Protest against Richard Spencer & his Ilk
Come here me speak!
TODAY, Sunday, February 12
Across from 1001 King Street, 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 Mark's Monthly Meetup in just two weeks. By that Meetup, 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