New Laws in Virginia Effective July 1, 2020 and Noteworthy Actions by the Virginia Legislature
Many of the new laws passed in the 2020 legislative session reflect concerns that dominated the news last year, such as legalizing marijuana, mass shootings and gun control. The 2021 session will, no doubt, have bills introduced reflecting current concerns raised by the Black Lives Matter movement and COVID-19.
Decriminalization of Marijuana
Penalties for offenses involving personal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana are now a civil violation and no longer a misdemeanor. The punishment for possessing small amount of marijuana is now a maximum $25 fine, no arrest, and no criminal record. Criminal records of similar possession by past offenders are now sealed from employers and school administrators. (SB 2/HB 972)
Background checks are now required for any firearm sale for a commercial transaction or a person-to-person exchange. Background checks at gun shows were previously optional but are now mandatory. The VA State Police Department has three days in which to complete the background check before a firearm may be transferred. (HB 2, HB 355)
When a person poses a substantial risk of injury to himself or others, a law enforcement officer or Commonwealth Attorney may seek an emergency order from a court of law. The order may restrict or remove firearms from such person and prohibit the purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm. The person will have 24 hours to turn over firearms voluntarily. Anyone transferring a firearm to a person he knows has been served with a warrant or who is the subject of a substantial risk order is guilty of a Class 4 felony. (HB 674)
A person subject to a permanent protective order is prohibited from possessing a firearm except for 24 hours after being served with the protective order for the purpose of selling or transferring the firearm to an unrestricted person. (HB 1004)
A person who is not a licensed firearms dealer is prohibited from purchasing more than one handgun in a 30-day period. (HB 812)
Loss or theft of a firearm must be reported to a local law-enforcement agency or the Department of State Police within 48 hours of discovery. (HB 9)
The penalty for anyone recklessly leaving a loaded, unsecured firearm in a manner as to endanger the life or limb of a person under the age of 14 has increased from a Class 3 to a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable with a fine up to $2,500 and up to 12 months in jail. (HB 1083)
Localities may prohibit the possession or carrying of firearms, ammunition, or components or any combination thereof in any building used for governmental purposes, any public park, any recreation or community center, or any public street, sidewalk or right-of-way. (HB 421)
Tax Increase: Cigarette & Tobacco Products
From 30 cents to 60 cents per pack, the tax on cigarettes just doubled. There are also new, higher rates for liquid nicotine products. (HB 1120)
Tax Decrease: Gun Safes
A gun safe or vault with a sales price of $1,500 or less is now exempt from the retail sales and use tax. (SB 268)
Juveniles committed of crimes and receiving lengthy sentences are now eligible for parole after serving 20 years. (HB 35)
The name of sex trafficking assessments is changed to human trafficking assessments. As recommended by the VA State Crime Commission, local departments of social services can now interview the alleged child victim or his/her siblings outside the presence and without the consent of a parent, guardian, or school official. (HB 1006)
Localities may prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, credit, and education on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. (HB 696)
Employers must make reasonable accommodations for the known limitations of persons related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. (HB 827/SB 712)
Gender, disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation are added as categories of victims whose intentional selection for a hate crime involving assault, battery, or trespass for the purpose of damaging another’s property results in a higher penalty. The bill also requires such crimes to be reported to the VA State Police central repository of information regarding hate crimes. (HB 618/SB 179)
Driver’s License Suspensions
Nonpayment of certain fines or costs will no longer result in a suspension of a VA driver’s license. (HB 1996/SB 1)
No person shall be subject to arrest or prosecution for the unlawful purchase, possession, or consumption of alcohol or controlled substance, public intoxication, or possession of controlled paraphernalia if he seeks or obtains emergency medical attention for himself, if he is experiencing an overdose, or seeks help for another if such person is experiencing an overdose. (SB 667)
The requirement to report race on marriage records, divorce and annulment reports is eliminated. (HB 180/SB 62/SB 1066)
Discrimination on the basis of a person’s source of funds is added to the list of unlawful discriminatory housing practices. The bill defines “source of funds” as any source that lawfully provides funds to or on behalf of a renter or buyer of housing including any assistance, benefit, or subsidy program, whether governmental or private. (HB 6)
The minimum wage increases from the federally mandated $7.25 per hour to $9.50 per hour effective May 1, 2021. Additional increases include $11.00 per hour effective January 1, 2022, $12.00 per hour effective January 1, 2023, $13.50 per hour effective January 1, 2025, and $15.00 per hour effective January 1, 2026. Beginning January 1, 2027 and after, the annual minimum wage shall be adjusted by the Consumer Price Index.
The photo identification requirement is repealed. Additional forms of identification are accepted. A signed statement in lieu of a required form of identification is accepted. (HB 19/SB 65)
Absentee ballots from a person entitled to vote that are returned to the general registrar after the closing of the polls on election day but before noon on the third day after the election and postmarked on or before the date of the election shall be counted. (HB 238/SB 455)
Adult Financial Abuse
Financial institutions must report to the local department of social services or the adult protective services hotline within five business days any refusal to execute a transaction, delay of a transaction, or refusal to disburse funds based on a good faith belief that such disbursement or transaction may involve financial exploitation of an adult. (SB 391)
Holding any handheld personal communications device while driving a motor vehicle is prohibited. (HB 874/SB 160)
State and local law enforcement agencies are authorized to operate photo speed monitoring devices in or around school crossing zones and highway work zones. (HB 1442)
A person who uses a bicycle lane for passing or operates a motor vehicle in a careless or distracted manner and is the proximate cause of serious physical injury to a vulnerable road user (such as a pedestrian, bicyclist, person using a wheel chair, skateboard, roller skates, or scooter) is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor(similar to reckless driving). (SB 437)
Reckless driving for speed is increased from 80 mph to 85 mph. (HB 885/SB 63)
Repeal of Same-sex Marriages Prohibition
Statutory prohibitions on same-sex marriages and civil unions are repealed. These statutes were no longer valid based on the United States Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (June 2015). (HB 1490/SB 17)
Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)
On January 15, 2020 the ERA, proposed amendment to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex, was ratified by both the VA House and Senate making it the 38th and pivotal state to do so. Due to the long-since expiration of the deadline to reach the required number of states necessary (June 30, 1982), and the five states’ revocations, this may or may not have any legal bearing on eventual adoption. It’s now ripe for legal debate and further clarification by the courts.
This is a partial list of new laws. It’s important to consult an attorney or do further research into any law that impacts you personally.
Kathryn Byler is a Pender and Coward attorney focusing her practice in the areas of real estate, business, guardianships, and estate planning matters.
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