Mark in the News:
VOTE NO on Amend. 1
Va. LGBT lawmakers divided over ‘redistricting’ measure
Our Man in Arlington
Falls Church News-Press
Some State Lawmakers Worry Pandemic Could Stymie Civic Education Effort
Virginia Public Radio
A Closer Look at Closed-Door Conference Committees
Virginia Public Radio
At governor's request, House panel kills bill to limit public health emergency orders
Danville Register & Bee
Links on COVID-19:
Or by mail and phone:
900 East Main Street, Suite E208
Richmond, VA 23219
301 King St
Alexandria, VA 22314
Before diving into my Special Session update, I wanted to be sure you knew that this Tuesday, October 13, is the FINAL day to register to vote or update your registration.
Make sure you can vote!
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.
Then, make a plan to vote! Put it on your calendar NOW. I voted earlier this week in-person at Alexandria's early voting location, 132 N. Royal Street, right across the street from City Hall.
After voting for Biden, Warner, and Beyer - and voting NO on Amendment 1 to protect Virginia from enshrining gerrymandering into our Constitution - I spent some time with No on 1 Alexandria volunteer extraordinaire Alex Sprague talking with voters before they headed into the polls.
Vote any time! My Election Day was last Tuesday.
If you requested a mailed ballot, but would prefer to vote in-person, DON'T WORRY.
1) If your mailed in ballot arrived, bring it to the polls. If you filled it in and want to change your mind, no problem! You can watch them destroy it before they hand you a new one so you can vote normally. (Side note: remember when Trump complained of a few discarded filled-out absentee ballots in the trash? That's what those likely were.) Several people who accidentally voted yes on 1 used this option so they could change their vote to vote against gerrrymandering and VOTE NO on 1.
2) If your mailed-in ballot did not arrive (and mine did not!), you can sign an affidavit at the polls and still vote normally.
3) Bring a valid ID if you have it. But if you don't have it, you can still vote. Just sign under penalty of perjury that you are who you say you are and still vote. This stems from a law I introduced in the 2020 Session, and it's very important. (There were no voter IDs in US history until 2006 when Republicans saw it as a great way to depress the vote of poor people and others who don't drive. Don't let the lack of an ID or an expired ID keep you from voting!)
My "Good Apples Bill" in Conference
My "Good Apples Act" passed the Virginia House of Delegates on a party-line vote, 54-43.
As I've mentioned in previous newsletter, the bill does three important things:
1. It makes it a duty for officers to report to their superiors bias-based profiling and other serious acts of wrongdoing by their fellow officers on duty. Those who coverup police criminality would face discipline.
2. It amends the definition of prohibited "bias-based profiling" to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
3. It requires law enforcement officers on duty to aid people facing life-threatening conditions.
Police and sheriffs should protect and serve the community first, even if it means exposing their corrupt, racist, or criminal buddies who regularly commit clear public misconduct on duty.
It's time to cross the "thin blue line" and end police coverups. If cops report one another for intentional racist misconduct, for example, we can dramatically reduce the incidents of Black Virginians being stopped for the non-crime of "Driving While Black." I hope one day that Black parents will be able to give the same advice as White parents to their children on how to deal with an aggressive, confrontational police officer.
Racial-justice and criminal-justice groups support this legislation. So do good police officers, like the Chief of Police of Alexandria Michael Brown, who has implemented a similar proposal in the City of Alexandria. Good cops know that the best way to prevent the bad habits of bad cops is to report misconduct early and get it corrected. The officer who killed George Floyd had umpteen complaints filed against him before the fateful day he murdered Mr. Floyd. We need to nip this conduct in the bud before it gets worse, and I need your help to see it through.
Although the bill in its original form (HB5112) was originally rejected by the Senate, the House has placed the bill's language with a couple of tweaks in Senator Locke's omnibus police reform bill (SB5030)
It now must pass through the Senate. So, please contact your Senator and ask them to support the "Good Apples" language in SB5030. The "Good Apples" portion is lines 591-621 and lines 1058-63 of SB5030. If you're not sure who your Senator is, you can find out here.
Also please remember this bill contains a measure adding gender identity and sexual orientation to bias-based profiling prohibited under Virginia law. The Rainbow community (and transgender people in particular) have long been singled out by law enforcement for profiling and harassment. It has happened ever since Stonewall and continues to this day.
This bill is not only about protecting our community from bad police officers. It's also about basic civil rights. No one should be stopped by police except upon a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed a crime.
(This is a perfect bill to advocate for today: October 11, National Coming Out Day. I will talk about Coming Out Day at the bottom of the lengthy newsletter. Stay tuned!)
Special Session: What's Passed So Far
For almost two months now, the General Assembly has continued our important work at our Special Session.
Currently, many bills have passed both the House of Delegates and the Senate but with slightly different language. Those bills - which I list later - are now in "conference", which is the process by which the House and Senate negotiate to determine the final language of bills. The budget is also still being negotiated. We'll likely vote on the remainder of these bills this week or next.
But much of our work is already done. Here is a list of just some of the important legislation the General Assembly has already passed and sent to the Governor for his signature. I particularly focused on the legislation marked in red.
Granting flexibility in enforcing executive orders through civil penalty. Prior to our work, the only penalty for such a violation was a Class 1 misdemeanor. Our new law will allow executive orders to be enforced through fines.
You should wear your mask in public enclosed spaces where you are not six feet apart. And if you don't, you should get a ticket. But barring an extremely egregious and aggressive or life-threatening refusal, folks shouldn't go to jail for not wearing a mask. The old penalty structure meant that because the penalty (jail-time) was so severe, very few no-mask violations were enforced at all. This bill, when it becomes law, will give law enforcement the flexibility they need to ensure mask wearing among Virginians without over- or under-punishing bad but not egregious behavior.
Increasing the protections from evictions for people who've been negatively financially impacted by COVID.
Combating price gouging for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Allowing the Governor to purchase PPE for private providers (and have the Commonwealth get reimbursed) to allow lower costs for private purchasers of PPE.
Advancing innovations in telehealth to make sure Virginians can get health care without risking exposure to COVID-19.
Mandating transparency requirements for congregate-care facilities during a public health emergency.
I had written the Governor and Attorney General at the outset of the pandemic about the necessity to disclose this information to the public. Now, this bill will make clear that is legal to do so. Given outbreaks in nursing homes and assisted living facilities account for as much as 40% of the COVID deaths in Virginia, the new law will allow family members to better protect their loved ones from what has unfortunately become the single most dangerous setting for spreading COVID.
Requiring school boards to publicize their COVID-19 virus mitigation plans. Families deserve to know what their school boards are doing to keep their students and school employees safe.
Promoting local school board participation in the federal breakfast and lunch program.
Funding drop off ballot boxes and other measures to make it easier for people to vote safely.
Policing and Criminal Justice Reform
(I particularly focused on the legislation marked in red.)
Eliminating certain pretextual police stops - like the smell of marijuana, or a hanging air freshener, or broken tail-light - which disproportionately harm Virginians of color by giving law enforcement "permission" to stop someone for "driving while Black."
Strengthening prosecutorial ability to dismiss charges. Commonwealth's Attorneys are elected by the people. Judges are not. If a Commonwealth's Attorney has a policy of focusing on, say, wage theft rather than marijuana charges and was elected by the People to implement this policy, judges shouldn't be able to force their own discretionary policy choices on prosecutors. So if a Commonwealth Attorney drops a case, no judge should overrule that decision unless that Commonwealth Attorney has some serious bias or conflict of interest or a victim is not being adequately protected.
Arlington judges in particular have been on the wrong side of the old law here. I've been disappointed by their conduct, and I've told them that clearly and directly. But since these judges refused to follow what I sincerely believe has already been the law for centuries, I worked on passing a new very clear law requiring them to do the right thing.
Empowering the Attorney General to conduct “pattern or practice” investigations of police forces that appear to be violating constitutional rights, including unlawful discrimination.
Banning police officers from having sex with people in their custody.
Standardizing and enhancing police academy curriculum.
Strengthening the ability to decertify bad officers and the assessments and vetting required before hiring officers to make sure bad cops don't get rehired elsewhere.
Diversifying the boards that lead oversight and curriculum-writing for law enforcement to give voice to social justice and minority groups.
Requiring police officers to intervene if a colleague uses excessive force.
Giving Virginia authorities more power to regulate ICE detention facilities.
Battling Systemic Racism
Expanding the definition of hate crimes to include false 911 calls made on the basis of race or ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Police are not personal-convenience enforcers or a tool to use to threaten others. Call 911 if necessary to prevent danger. But people shouldn't lie to 911 to harass others. It will no longer be tolerated.
Making Juneteenth an official Virginia holiday. It's about time we had a holiday that focused on America's Greatest Sin.
June 19, 1865 was not the first time enslaved persons were emancipated by federal law (The first were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.) Nor was it the last. (The final American slaves were emancipated by the passage of the 13th Amendment in December 1865.) But as a holiday, Juneteenth focuses on the reactions of the enslaved to being free. It is an organic holiday that was an outgrowth of the reactions of those enslaved themselves, and they began this 150+ year old tradition.
I'm looking forward to having this holiday in Virginia with its focus on the lives of the enslaved under slavery and their optimism for the future.
We've seen all too often in current times how even such great movements as the Civil Rights Movement and the Voting Rights Act can be reversed by Republican policies that promote the re-emergence of Jim Crow Laws, Poll Taxes, Removing Blacks from Voting Rolls, Intentional Barriers to the Freedom to Vote, Voter Intimidation, and Systemic Violent Racism by Police and others in authority. Juneteenth should serve as an annual reminder of where we have come, why we are here, the fragility of our gains for racial justice, and how we still have so far to go to achieve Dr. King's dream.
What Didn't Pass: The Disappointments
Several bills I championed in the House of Delegates unfortunately did not pass the more conservative Virginia Senate:
Protecting our teachers and first responders by establishing COVID-19 as an occupational disease, making serious illness or death due to COVID-19 compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act. The Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee passed it by indefinitely on a vote of 15-1.
Requiring businesses to provide paid quarantine leave for employees to get tested, isolate, or seek treatment for oneself or a family member (if they aren't already providing it), until the state of emergency is ended. The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee passed it by indefinitely on a vote of 14-1.
Eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement officers. In my last newsletter, I expressed how I disappointed I was to see this important bill (that I co-patroned) originally fail to pass the House. I promised to work to have the bill reconsidered, and I did. The bill was reconsidered, and it passed the House 49-47. But the Senate Judiciary Committee passed it by indefinitely on a vote of 12-3.
This doesn't make sense to me. Just as doctors, lawyers, or anyone else can be held liable if they commit malpractice, law enforcement officers and particularly those that employ them (and pay for the liability insurance) must know that they can be held civilly liable if they violate someone's Constitutional rights.
The Bill of Rights is not supposed to be optional. I would like to see, for example, a successful civil lawsuit against those officers who carried out Trump's unlawful orders to shoot rubber bullets and tear gas to injure and/or blind peaceful protesters. If Nuremberg taught us anything, it should have been that "I was just following orders" is no excuse to knowingly violate citizens' Constitutional rights, including the vitally important right to peaceful assembly and protest. I will continue to fight to remove immunity for law enforcement when they violate such basic Constitutional rights as this, whether following orders or not. Those that give such unlawful orders, of course, should be held even more responsible.
Making it easier for citizens to review certain case files when no action has been taken on a case. This will help people falsely convicted of crimes and help victims' families gain justice. The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted to pass it by and study it, on a vote of 14-0. I've heard some encouraging news that we may be able to pass this law in 2021.
Making it easier for counties and cities to remove Confederate memorials. The Senate has been notoriously reluctant to make it easier for localities to remove Confederate memorials, and although they allowed it in 2020, they put a ton of red tape on it to make it difficult. They continue to support this red tape. The Senate Local Government Committee voted to pass it by and study it, on a vote of 14-0. I understand the protesters' frustration and share it.
The Bills in Conference
Many very important bills remain in conference. I support every single one of them, but the details matter. If you have an opinion on what should or should not be a part of the following legislation, please don't hesitate to contact me.
- HB 5043 Mental health awareness response & community understanding serv. (Marcus) alert syst.; establishes.
- HB 5049 Law-enforcement agencies; acquisition and use of military property.
- HB 5050 Emergency Services and Disaster Law; powers and duties of Governor, purchase of PPE.
- HB 5055 Law-enforcement civilian review panels; localities required, on or before 7/1/2021, to establish.
- HB 5064 Virginia Residential Landlord &Tenant Act; landlord remedies, noncompliance with rental agreement.
- HB 5068 Emergency relief payments; automatic exemption during a state of emergency.
- HB 5099 Search warrants; prohibition on no-knock search warrants.
- HB 5104 Law-enforcement officers, sheriff, etc.; minimum qualifications, disclosure of information.
- HB 5106 Landlord and tenant; noncompliance with rental agreement, reporting negative credit information.
- HB 5146 Criminal records; automatic expungement for certain convictions, etc.
- HB 5148 Earned sentence credits; max. of 4.5 credits may be earned for each 30 days served on certain sent.
- SB 5007 Criminal cases; sentencing reform.
- SB 5018 Geriatric or terminally ill prisoners; conditional release.
- SB 5030 Policing reform; acquisition of military property, training of officers in de-escalation techniques.
- SB 5034 Prisoners; conditional release, sentence credits.
- SB 5035 Law-enforcement civilian oversight body; locality authorized to establish.
- SB 5038 Mental health crises; DCJS to assist DBHDS, etc., with development of Marcus alert system.
- SB 5043 Police and court records; Expungement Fee Fund created, expungement of certain records.
- SB 5081 Outbreaks of communicable disease of public health threat; posting of information about cases.
- SB 5088 Virginia Residential Landlord &Tenant Act; landlord remedies, noncompliance with rental agreement.
Passed the House. Awaiting Conference
The House and Senate are currently negotiating final details over a revised budget. The pandemic has unfortunately led to a record $2.8 billion revenue shortfall over the next two years. So this new budget reflects that reality. We in the House focused on public health, protecting workers, keeping people in their homes with working utilities, and education.
Here are some pieces of the House budget you may find interesting. Virginia received $3.1 billion in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds. The House Appropriations Committee's budget package appropriates virtually all the $1.3 billion in federal relief funds that remain unallocated. The remainder would be in the Governor's discretion, but I'm confident we won't leave any federal money on the table.
HOUSING & EVICTIONS
The budget provides $55 Million in FY 2021 to the Virginia Housing Trust Fund to expand access to affordable housing, provide rental assistance, and support homeless populations in response to COVID-19. The budget takes into account the federal evictions moratorium instituted by the CDC. $25 million of the $55 million will go to the Rent and Mortgage Relief Program.
The budget extends the utility disconnection moratorium until 60 days after the end of declared state of emergency or until economic or public health conditions improve.
The budget appropriates $10 million to local voting registrars from Coronavirus Relief Funds to address concerns about the 2020 general election. This can be used for drop boxes, increased payments to elections workers, PPE, and any other extraordinary costs of the November election to support voter safety. This is separate from the $2 million in elections funding we provided for dropboxes and to end the witness signature requirement in HB5103.
The budget invests $50 Million in FY 2021 in the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) to expand broadband infrastructure in response to COVID-19, and it creates a pilot program allowing localities to apply directly for funding to address an unserved community's lack of access to telehealth or virtual learning programs.
We've come a long way from when I first proposed $2 million for rural broadband in 2017, and it was rejected by the Republican delegates in charge even though I was trying to serve their constituents. (For a two-minute trip down that memory lane, click here.) Maybe that's one reason why most of the Republicans who rejected my budget amendment to give their constituents better broadband service are not in office any longer...
Currently, applications must be submitted by a unit of government with a private-sector provider as a co-applicant. I have long advocated for getting rid of arbitrary laws and red tape that unnecessarily hinder local government's ability to provide internet to their residents. That's why I introduced HB1052 last session.
We also redirected $8.9 million in federal Education Emergency Relief funds to provide a total of $26.9 million to support school divisions with shorter-term virtual learning needs.
We allocated $11.2 million from the general fund and $11.2 million in matching federal Medicaid funds to extend the $20 per day add-on to Medicaid nursing and specialized care facility rates until March 31, 2021 and to provide stability to the nursing home industry during the COVID-19 crisis. Extending at least through March 31, 2021 will allow work to ensue during the 2021 Regular Session toward a permanent improvement to recognize both the post-COVID-19 “new normal” and historic underfunding issues that have been highlighted in the COVID-19 crisis.
$5 million to accelerate the research and development of therapeutic drug treatments for COVID-19.
We provided $95.2 million from gambling revenues as a one-time action to protect school divisions from the extraordinary reduction in revenue from sales taxes caused by COVID-19.
$60 million to a child care stabilization fund provided by unallocated CARES Act funds
$33.2 million for short-term child care needs for school-age children
JUSTICE AND POLICE REFORM
Our budget also sets aside funding for the justice reform bills that passed or will pass this session.
Have You Voted?
No excuse necessary! Making it easier to vote was a priority of the Democratic majority in the General Assembly and this is the result! Early in-person voting lasts through October 31.
Also, you do NOT need a witness signature on your absentee ballots!
My constituents and many other Northern Virginians can find out where to vote here:
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.
At the top of the newsletter, I describe what to do if you requested a mail-in ballot but decided instead to vote early at the polls.
Important Dates for the Election:
Calling All Young and Healthy Virginians: Protect Democracy by Becoming a Poll Worker
An Officer of Election (poll worker) is part of a team that conducts elections at a polling place on Election Day. Their job is to conduct the election fairly and lawfully and to assist voters in a courteous and respectful manner. Poll workers work hard on Election Day, but their work is essential to American democracy.
In the past, more often than not, these roles have been filled by retirees and senior citizens. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has left many of these perennial do-gooders susceptible to severe illness. We are at risk of having a shortage of poll workers this year. That's why - as Tom Ortiz mentioned at my previous Mark's Monthly Meetup - we need young, healthy people with no co-morbidities to sign up as poll workers this year. You'll wear a mask, of course, keep your distance, and have plenty of hand sanitizer.
You all know how essential fairly and competently-run elections are to our democracy. And it's perfectly ok if you've never done this before. It's a good time to learn! It is one long and tiring day. But you will be an essential link in the chain of our republic. You will be essential to making sure our elections are fair and just to all Americans casting a ballot.
Do your patriotic duty!
Become an Election Officer!
You can learn more about what poll workers do by clicking here.
National Coming Out Today
I want to end with a more personal reflection...
Today is National Coming Out Day.
Although it was decades ago, I still remember the heartfelt pain and agony I underwent when I finally made the decision to tell my family and friends about my sexual orientation.
Coming out is not a one-time act. It's an ongoing process. I still come out from time to time to folks who don't know I'm gay. But now it's a joyful act, rather than one filled with terror.
I remember my coming-out days every time I advise another member of the Rainbow Community about how they should come out. I've done it now hundreds of times. Several of my closeted constituents have even come to me for guidance. And while I would never "out" anyone, I always encourage coming out.*
*the only exception being when safety is an issue, but then I work to get someone to be in a safe place first and then come out
Like walking, the hardest step is the first one. The second one is the second hardest. And every step after that gets progressively easier.
When you come out of the closet, you don't just protect yourself, you protect your entire community. You give yourself the freedom to be you, and you give others the freedom to be themselves. As the feminists taught us, the personal is political. And there are few acts more personal and political than coming out.
Today, I think back to the bravery it took Frank Kameny to come out in the 1950's(!) and pickett the Government after he lost his job for being gay. (I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Kameny and interviewing him just before he died.)
Today, I think about those early Stonewall drag queens whose indomitable spirit to be themselves despite all the forces arrayed against them led them finally, one night, to fight back against police abuse. Their fierce determination empowers us still today.
Today I think about the courageous AIDS-activists in the 1980's who fought to save lives during the last great pandemic in the face of an uncaring world. If you want to know who gave the best real-world training to Dr. Fauci about how to save lives in practice and not just in principle, it was those brave souls. Most of them are gone now. May their memory serve us as a blessing and a reminder.
I came out in the 1990's building on the work of my predecessors and never forgetting what they did for us.
In the 1990's, it will still a crime to be gay in Virginia and many other states. It wasn't prosecuted often, but it could be at any time. It was also illegal to get married. And I'm proud as an activist to be one of the four co-founders of Marriage Equality California and to have written (in California) the very first full-equality same-sex marriage bill. It failed, just as I expected it to, but it lay the grounds for more to come. A decade later, I succeeded in writing the DC marriage-equality law that still exists to this day.
Working for Barney Frank, we fought to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," to get equal treatment for same-sex survivors of 911, and to pass hate crimes legislation and the employment non-discrimination act. The latter is still a battle we're fighting today.
And now it's 2020. We can marry and can't be put in prison any more for being gay. But there are dark clouds on the horizon. There are US Supreme Court justices who, with enough votes, have declared their desire to roll back our progress. I don't know whether they would forcibly divorce all my same-sex-couple friends or "only" not allow new loving couples to marry. Either way, the threat to our freedom is real. We can't go back in the closet. Not now. Not ever.
And in Virginia, we still haven't quite succeeded yet in getting across the finish line my bill (it was HB5112 but it's now embedded in SB5030, see above) to ensure that police cannot commit bias-based profiling of transgender and other Rainbow Virginians. You can help me by calling your Senator and Equality Virginia and urging them to get behind this cause.
We still have a lot to fight for. We have stood on the shoulder of the activists of the 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's. I joined the fight in the 90's, and continued in the 2000's and the 2010's. But I'm not done. We're not done. And I hope you're not done either.
You can help us in 2020.
Encourage your friends and family to come out.
Be a straight ally, an understanding friend, an empathetic parent or sibling.
Never be afraid to ask questions. If you don't understand, just ask. But ask compassionately.
Remember that God has created all of us in a myriad of diverse ways.
Don't just "tolerate" diversity.
It's what being human is all about.
May we work together toward a world where the beautiful glorious variety of the human condition is one day celebrated everywhere.
Happy Coming Out Day.
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