Here's a look into dozens of new Virginia laws now in effect

Posted at 5:21 PM, Jul 01, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. -- July 1 marked the first day for dozens of new laws in Virginia. CBS 6 anchor Bill Fitzgerald broke down some of those new laws and how they might impact your life.

Watch: How new laws will impact foster care in Virginia

A rundown of new laws now in effect in Virginia

One of the bills going into effect Monday, stems from a tragedy out of Dinwiddie County last year.

28-year-old Irvo Otieno died in March 2023 while in custody at Central State Hospital, after being transported by Henrico Sheriff's deputies from Henrico Doctors Hospital.

Since his death, his mother, Caroline Ouko, has worked around the clock to honor her son's memory, by making a difference for other families under similar circumstances.
Irvo's law, which was supported by Governor Youngkin, aims to ensure access for loved ones of people in a mental health crisis.
That access is something Ouko said she was denied during Otieno's last time at the hospital.

"It's an honor to have a law in Irvo's name," Ouko said at the signing. "Irvo's Law will give you access to be with your loved ones in a mental health crisis as they navigate treatment for support and supportive decision-making. Irvo's Law will alleviate the trauma that arises with separation. Our families are part of our mental health and we need them beside us in those tough times."

This spring, prosecutors withdrew charges against five sheriff's deputies, and downgraded charges for two deputies and a hospital worker in connection to Otieno's death

Another bill signed into law this session limits the use of canine attack dogs inside prisons.
A report from Business Insider last July found that of the nearly 300 documented cases of prison attack dogs biting inmates between 2017 and 2022, 271 cases were in Virginia. That's more than 90 percent.
I spoke with the legislators backing the bill and Shawn Weneta, who is part of the Humanization Project, which works to humanize people in the prison system. He formerly worked with the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I spent 16 years in prisons in Virginia, and I saw these dogs in action," said Weneta, who says he's grateful a new law will curb the use of attack dogs in Virginia prisons.

He says the dogs makes prisons less safe.

"It's not even so much of what they do, but it's the effect that they have on the environment and the escalated tensions of many of these dogs," said Weneta. "We have lots of video of this, where many of these dogs are snapping at the end of their leash. They at least appear to be- even if they aren't- they appear to be out of control, particularly to a layman."

An investigation last year by Business Insider revealed the vast majority - more than ninety percent- of inmate bites by prison dogs nationwide over a five-year period happened in the Commonwealth.

"So it's clearly a Virginia problem, not a national problem," said Weneta. "Virginia was an outlier."

Two Virginia legislators saw the article and the need to address the problem.

Delegates Michael Webert (R, Rappahannock) and Holly Seibold (D, Fairfax) crafted a bipartisan bill that drew support from their colleagues and Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

"We realized that the Department of Corrections (DOC) wasn't really adhering to a best practices kind of model," said Webert. "And so we wanted to institute best practices and some guardrails, where a canine can be used."

The law does not ban the dogs but strictly limits how they're deployed.

"A lot of the bites were from cell extractions, where a prisoner doesn't want to leave a cell," said Seibold. "And so they send the dogs in to pull them out. They weren't necessarily using the canines to break up fights. They were being used just for routine patrol. To me, that was that was completely inhumane."

Seibold points out the law provides new accountability as well.

"Starting July 1, they need to seek permission before they're deployed," said Seibold. "And that means an officer needs to contact the supervisor or the warden, and say, 'there's a major event happening, some sort of fight with that involves multiple people, do I have permission to deploy the canines?'"

The DOC issued statement saying it supports the new law which they say codifies "already-existing VADOC operating procedures while increasing transparency regarding the use of canines in facilities. Further, the legislation does not limit the use of canines at facilities."

Despite the DOC statement, Weneta insists the new law does limit their use, and helps keep inmates from a situation where charges could be added to their current sentence.

"You're scared to death that the handler is going to drop that leash and the dog is going to be a weapon and you can't defend yourself," said Weneta. "If you do defend yourself, then it's the code says that that's the same as assaulting a law enforcement officer."

EAT IT, VIRGINIA restaurant news and interviews



Watch 'The Jennifer Hudson Show' weekdays at 3 p.m. on CBS 6!

📱 Download CBS 6 News App
The app features breaking news alerts, live video, weather radar, traffic incidents, closings and delays and more.