RICHMOND, Va -- After controlling both chambers of the state legislature and the executive mansion for the first time in a generation, hundreds of new laws passed by the Democratic controlled Virginia General Assembly and signed by Governor Ralph Northam (D) take effect July 1.
Northam signed more than 1,200 bills that cleared the General Assembly during the 2020 session.
Many of those bills are duplicates, commending resolutions, or technical tweaks to existing law. Although many Virginians might not see or know the direct impact, several bills will directly impact daily life and discussion in Virginia.
“We’re excited about what’s going to happen and what will become law at midnight,” said Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond). “We are putting Virginia on the right side of history. Although, we may be getting on the right side of history a little late for some things.”
Bourne points to a bill he sponsored (HB 6), that bans discrimination against someone seeking housing based off the source of that person’s income, as an example of a issue Virginia Democrats long tried to tackle but did not have the power.
“People will no longer be able to be discriminated against simply because they have a housing voucher,” Bourne said. “These are things long overdue. So while it feels like we did a lot in a very short time, and we did, there’s just so much more work to do.”
Del. John McGuire (R-Goochland) worried that so many changes so fast will lead to unintended consequences. McGuire pointed to loosening abortion restrictions, gun control laws, and new businesses regulations.
“Not just 2nd Amendment, not just life, not just business. There’s going to be some big changes,” he said.
McGuire said that under a new law decriminalizing marijuana, a twenty-year old smoking a cigarette could technically face a stiffer fine than one with a joint on them.
“They say decriminalization of marijuana, but those bills actually legalize. They actually help criminals because they double the legal amount drug dealers can carry before they get in trouble,” McGuire said.
Both the hands-free driving law and increase to the minimum wage in Virginia were signed by Northam, but both contain delay clauses, meaning they do not take effect until 2021.
Here is a sample of laws that will change July 1:
Abortion restrictions that were enacted when Republicans controlled Virginia’s General Assembly are being undone. HB 980/SB 733 roll back provisions including a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion and a requirement that women seeking an abortion undergo an ultrasound and counseling.
It also removes the requirement that an abortion be provided by a physician, allowing nurse practitioners to perform them, and does away with strict building code requirements on facilities where abortions are performed.
Casino gaming and sports betting
Lawmakers signed off on allowing casinos in five Virginia cities, including Richmond. Virginia also established the framework for regulating sports betting in the Commonwealth following a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Confederate monument removal
Previously, cities and counties were barred from removing or relocating war memorials, including those for Confederate leaders. HB 1537/SB 183 gives localities the power to remove, relocate, or contextualize monuments after a public process is carrying out of the course of several months. Richmond City Council has already scheduled a special meeting to discuss removing Confederate memorials Wednesday morning.
Drivers license suspension
HB 1196/SB 1 officially ends the practice of suspending a person’s drivers license for unpaid court costs or fines. Anyone who had their license suspended because of court fines or costs prior to July 1, 2019, will have their license reinstated.
Despite pro-gun rally in January that drew 20,000 gun owners, many of whom were armed, Virginia will institute gun control measures long sought by Democrats. They include: background checks on all firearms sales, reinstating the one handgun purchase per month law, establishing a so-called “red flag” law, and a allowing localities to regulate firearms on public property.
Late payments on rent
HB 1420 caps the amount a landlord can charge for late fees on rent at 10 percent of the remaining balance owed by the tenant. Under the new law, landlords cannot charge late fees one is specifically listed in a written rental agreement.
The “Virginia Values Act” bars discrimination against someone in housing, employment, or health care because of their sexual orientation or gender identify. SB 868 makes Virginia the first southern state in the U.S. to explicitly protect LGBTQ residents under state law, advocates said.
HB 972/SB 2 makes simple possession of marijuana, defined as less than an ounce, a civil penalty and not punishable by jail time. People caught by police with marijuana on them face a $25 fine, similar to a ticket for a driving violation. Criminal records of previous simple possession convictions will no longer be made public.
Certain offenders sentenced to prison between 1995 and 2000 could be eligible for parole following a Virginia Supreme Court decision. Under the “Fishback” case, juries during that time were not properly instructed that parole was abolished in Virginia in 1995. HB 35/SB 103 makes juvenile offenders sentenced to prison terms of 20 years or more eligible for parole.
Virginia is raising the threshold for a reckless driving charge from 80 mph to 85 mph. Drivers can still face a reckless driving charge if they are caught going 20 mph over the speed limit.
Makes Election Day an official state holiday in Virginia, and removes Lee-Jackson Day as one.
Statute of limitation for sexual abuse
Under HB 870, someone who was sexually abused can bring action against their attacker within 10 years of the incident occurring. The law applies to incident after July 1, 2020.
Tethering animals outdoors
HB 1552/SB 272 deems tethering an animal outside inadequate shelter if the animal is not safe from predators or well suited to tolerate its environment. An animal control officer must inspect a pets individual circumstances to determine if the conditions are safe.
Virginia is making it easier to vote absentee by removing the requirement o declare a reason, repealing the photo ID law, and extending the deadline returning absentee ballots.
You can read more about these new laws and many others by reading “In Due Course,” a yearly publication by the Virginia Division of Legislative Services that summarizes new laws taking effect.