Representing Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax

I struggled with how to describe my feelings about the Parkland, Florida massacre in my ordinary newsletter (which comes out every Sunday and will come out in about an hour). I found I just couldn't do it. The grim topic just didn't mesh with an ordinary newsletter. So I've laid out my thoughts here.

Last week, reportedly upon direct orders from the Republican Leadership, the Virginia GOP once again killed all bills aimed at preventing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Virginians. My bill, HB 401, was the most comprehensive. It would have banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment, public accommodations, public contracting, insurance, and banking. It would also have codified existing non-discrimination executive orders that protect Virginians from being discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, pregnancy, age, marital status, disability, or status as a veteran. I have zero doubt that we shall overcome someday. And someday very soon. As soon as two more Democrats are elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, this bill will become law with solid majorities. The truth is even most Virginia Republicans support equality under the law. It's just a shame they elected a Leadership that has demanded Republicans keep unfair discrimination legal in Virginia.

Tuesday, February 13 ("Crossover") is the last day by which House of Delegates bills have to pass the Virginia House of Delegates in order to be considered by the Senate. That means we only have one week left (next Monday - Friday) to consider all remaining bills in subcommittees and full committees. I still have 10 bills to be heard. (We've heard 17 of my bills already and three of my budget amendments.)

I’ve long advocated for reform of our outdated and unnecessarily punitive marijuana laws. Those of you who know me personally know I've never even tried cannabis. (I have a strong negative allergic reaction to both marijuana and tobacco. Please don't smoke anywhere near me.) But just because something physically disgusts me does not make me blind to the scientific fact that non-psychoactive cannabidiol oils from cannabis -- oils that don't get you "high" -- have proven scientific effects that reduce pain and nausea and even kill cancer cells. Having counted the votes on full committee and talked to Members in both the House of Delegates and the Senate, I am extremely optimistic about the fate of this legislation. I expect this law to pass. I predict cannabidiol oils will be legally prescribed in Virginia for diagnosis or treatment of illnesses beginning in July 2018.

Having been gone for two solid weeks, I was thinking as I drove home yesterday that it's good to be home again, if only for a night. One day in the Virginia House of Delegates feels like a week. A week seems like a month. And a month, a year. We're so busy, because so much is packed in such a limited amount of time. Having introduced 27 bills (almost twice as much as I introduced in prior years), I've also co-patroned more than 120 others.

Tomorrow at noon, Ralph Northam becomes Governor of Virginia. Our new Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and our re-elected Attorney General Mark Herring will be sworn in as well. I know many residents of the 45th District will be joining me to celebrate these fine public servants as they begin their four-year terms leading our Commonwealth.

Wednesday, on the first day of the 2018 General Assembly Session, the Virginia House of Delegates passed their rules governing the legislative body. In an effort led by the Virginia Transparency Caucus (VTC), which was founded by then-Freshmen Delegate Mark Levine and Senator Amanda Chase in January 2016, the House of Delegates will for the first time in 2018 require all votes in subcommittees be recorded.

As of the drawing yesterday for Shelly's race, the Republicans currently barely, retain control of the House. But, if the courts decide to rule for a special election for the 28th district, we could see a power-sharing agreement between the two parties. Depending on what happens in each of these races over the next few weeks, the House could be 50-50 or 51-49 for either side. This is nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time. The GOP has controlled the House of Delegates for the better part of almost two decades. With all five statewide offices being held by Democrats and Governor-elect Northam having won 9 districts currently held by Republicans, it is about time the representation in Richmond change and be more reflective of the will of the people.

Please join me at the December Mark's Monthly Meetup from 2-4 pm at Los Tios Mexican restaurant in Del Ray (2615 Mount Vernon Avenue in Alexandria). Come join us to eat, relax, and discuss policy and politics. And if you miss December, there's always January, February, or March of next year. Every month, I make sure to be available in this informal setting for any constituent who wishes to discuss a problem or just say hello. Help me get to know you better, so I can better determine your priorities in Richmond. I always strive to be as accessible to you as I can possibly be.

The Blue Tsunami that hit Virginia on November 7 brought the Democrats at least 15 more seats in the House. Out of 100 seats, we currently hold 49 and the Republicans now hold 48, with 3 races still too close to call and headed for recounts. In the 94th district (Newport News), Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds trails Republican Delegate David Yancey by only 10 votes! Never let anyone tell you that your vote doesn't matter. With a margin that narrow, it's a tossup as to who will come out the winner.

All year long, I spoke about Mission 51, a multi-year plan to take the Virginia House of Delegates. We talked about our progressive priorities and how and why we needed 51 Democrats in the Virgina House to pull it off. I thought we would do well this November. I thought, with hard work and dedication, we could get 10 seats. Maybe, in my wildest dreams, a couple more. I never dreamed we'd be on the cusp of actually taking a majority in the House of Delegates. But that's where we are now:  we won 15 seats! We have 49 seats. And we are on the verge of taking over! And we're not done!