Thursday, June 24, 2021

New Laws Part 2

New laws affecting everything from the intentional release of balloons to legalizing simple possession of marijuana to riding bicycles two abreast on public streets to abolishing the death penalty officially become the law of the Commonwealth on July 1, 2021.

With Democrats in control of both houses of Virginia’s General Assembly and the Governor’s mansion, Virginians will see some significant first-in-the-south changes to Virginia’s code as new laws go into effect this July 1st, along with a laundry list of lower profile but often impactful legislation adopted with broad bi-partisan support.

Advocates for fully reopening Virginia’s schools, for instance, will be pleased to know that a new state law requires all local school districts to offer live, in-person instruction 5 days a week unless that can’t possibly do so safely. That law passed with broad bi-partisan support on an 88-9 vote in the House of Delegates.

An issue that has bi-partisan support among the electorate, according to polling, but that passed almost exclusively with Democratic votes, was marijuana legalization. Beginning July 1, Virginians over the age of 21 can legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana for personal use. While Virginia has yet to establish a legal framework for a regulated marijuana market place, making obtaining and transporting marijuana legally fraught, a Virginia household is legally allowed to grow up to four plants, provided they are labeled, not in public sight, and out of the reach of anyone underage. 

While mass balloon releases may produce fleeting, beautiful, Instagram-worthy moments, they won’t be legal in Virginia anymore. Concerns about the long-term environmental impact, particularly on coastal habitats and wildlife, led the General Assembly to enact a ban on the intentional outdoor release of balloons.

Concern for the environment and long-term health of the planet also led to the enactment of laws that will have Virginia join a number of other states looking to increasing sales of electric vehicles. Legislation going into effect this year will require carmakers to sell a certain percentage of electric or hybrid cars.

Mandatory paid family and medical leave is not yet the law in Virginia, but beginning July 1, for the first time, some Virginia business will be required to provide paid sick leave to their employees. Employers of home health care workers who work on average of 20 hours per week or 90 hours per month and who provide personal care, respite, or companion services will be required to allow those employees to start accruing leave. This means they won’t have to choose between taking care of their patient or taking care of their own health.

After greatly expanding worker protections from discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin and sexual orientation in 2020 with the adoption of the Virginia Values Act, this year the Act was expanded to include Virginians with disabilities as was the Virginia Human Rights Act (VHRA).

Voting continues to get easier in Virginia, as we continue our climb for a ranking of 2nd to last in ease of access to the ballot to number 12 and hopefully soon to the top 10. Local registrars will have the option to include Sunday voting hours during the recently expanded in-person early voting period. Also, starting July 1, it becomes illegal to carry a firearm within 40 feet of a polling place on Election Day.

When driving, bicyclists and drivers should be aware of two new bike laws: one allows bicyclists to ride two abreast in a travel lane and the other making drivers change lanes when passing bicyclists instead of just moving over. 

Our neighbor, Arlington County, will have the power to rename its stretch of Lee Highway. And we’ll now be able to remove the statue of Harry Byrd, Sr. that stands in Capitol Square in Richmond.

We’re continuing to make strides in criminal justice reform with Virginia becoming the first state in the south to abolish the death penalty. We also eliminated the so-called “Gay Panic Defense,” which previously allowed those accused of homicide to receive lesser sentences by saying they panicked after learning of the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Local law enforcement agencies and campus police departments will be banned from using facial recognition technology, which will better protect individual’s privacy.

These are just a few of the good bills we passed this year.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

New Laws 2021

 This historic Virginia General Assembly sworn in on January 13th, 2020 will meet again for at least two more special sessions prior to the end of the year. We’ll likely meet at the beginning of August to appropriate funds made available to states and localities under the American Rescue Plan, and again to adopt redistricting pans drafted by the Redistricting Commission on which I serve.  

In the meantime, in addition to new laws that took effect July 1st of last year, March 1st of this year, and May 1st of this year, many more bills passed during our 1st special session of 2021 go into effect ton July 1, 2021- almost exactly two weeks from now.  

I got into the weeds on Marijuana legalization in my April column, so this month just a reminder, starting on July 1st, adults over the age of 21 can legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana for personal use. You will also be allowed to grow up to four plants per household, provided that the plants are labeled, not in public sight, and out of the reach of anyone underage.  

For those that like to order take-out, you’ll still be able to order those special cocktails and other alcoholic beverages to-go as we extended the original legislation allowing restaurants to include this service on their menus. 

Pet lovers may feel reassured to learn that anyone who has been convicted of animal cruelty is prohibited from owning, operating, managing, breeding, or even staffing a pet shop beginning July 1 

For those that don’t like lawyers, beginning in two weeks you can file a civil action for personal injury or wrongful death in the General District Courts for up to a maximum of $50,000, a much larger number than before. Litigants are able to appear without counsel in the General District Court. 

On the other hand, we’ve made more jobs for attorneys in appellate practice, creating an automatic right of appeal in most cases, and increasing the number of judges on the Virginia Court of Appeals (from 11 to 17) to handle the increased caseload. 

Virginia will become the first state in the south to abolish the death penalty on July 1st. 

Electric vehicle owners will be able to take advantage of a rebate program for the purchase or lease of new and used electric vehicles, administered by the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. 

A person who has been convicted of assault and battery of a family member will be prohibited from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm. There will be a process to have this right restored provided that there isn’t another subsequent disqualifying conviction. 

For those who are members of community organizations that use charitable gaming to raise funds, you’ll still be able to play bingo and hold raffles with some organizations being exempt from the required permit application and fees.  

You’ll be able to continue to take advantage of telemedicine opportunities as the Board of Medical Assistance Services will amend the state plan to provide payment for and the ability to use remote patient monitoring services. This means that health insurance providers will be able to cover these telehealth services. And health insurance providers will be allowed to offer coverage for abortions in any qualified health insurance plan that is sold or offered for sale through a health benefits exchange in Virginia. 

Virginia’s Dream Act will allow students who meet the criteria to be deemed eligible for in-state tuition regardless of their citizenship or immigration status shall be afforded the same educational benefits, including state-administered financial assistance programs or a public institution of higher education, as any other individual who is eligible for in-state tuition. ​ 

The Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back Fund and Program (G3 Fund)​ will require the Virginia Community College System to establish the G3 Program to provide financial assistance to certain low-income and middle-income students who are enrolled in program at a public institution of higher education that leads to an occupation in a high-demand field.​ 

Parents with kids in K-12 will be happy to learn that the total number and type of required SOL assessments will be reduced. 

This is just a sampling of the good legislation that passed and will become effective July 1st. For a larger summary of legislation, check out where you can view the Department of Legislative Services’ In Due Course.