Every year, the Virginia General Assembly passes numerous bills that are signed into law by the Governor.
Most of these laws go into effect on July 1st of each year.
It can be hard to keep up with all the updates to the legal code. Especially since these laws apply to many different issues and topics.
This article will highlight some of the major updates that you should be aware of.
Although it is not an exhaustive list, these items are the most impactful and discussed updates.
For information on all of the updates, please visit the Virginia Legislative Information System.
Adjustments to Virginia’s Marijuana Laws
July ushered in some major readjustments to Virginia’s Marijuana Laws.
Although they are not as dramatic as states like Colorado, they do signal a change in Virginia’s perspective on Marijuana.
Decriminalization of Marijuana
Virginia now has a softer penalty for possession of small amounts of Marijuana.
Previously this carried a criminal charge which could mean higher fines, loss of driving privileges, community service, and even jail time.
Now, simple possession carries a maximum fine of $25, and is a civil offence.
Additionally, the Virginia legislature has created a special committee to research the effects of legalizing marijuana, with a mandate that they release a report on the issue by November 30, 2020.
Virginia also passed legislation that protects patients using Virginia’s medical cannabis program.
The program is expected to start distributing medical cannabis through health service district associated dispensaries.
Users of this program used to rely on an affirmative defense if they were on trial or to commute their punishments.
Now, they cannot be processed in the first place.
An Increase in the Minimum Wage
The second piece of legislation to discuss is the increase in the minimum wage.
Although it was passed in this cycle, Virginia will not see its first increase, raising the minimum wage up to $9.50, until May of 2021.
From there, it will gradually increase; first to $11 in 2022 and then to $12 in 2023.
The wage will then be bumped up to $13.50 in 2025 and $15 in 2026.
Removal of Confederate Monuments
Moving forward, each individual locality can make decisions regarding monuments on their property.
They will be able to remove the monuments, add additional context, or relocate monuments.
The General Assembly also passed several gun control laws.
First, they have reinstated the one handgun per 30 days restriction. As the title suggests, you cannot purchase more than one handgun in a 30 day period.
Second, they have made background checks mandatory for all firearm purchases.
Another major addition was the ability for authorities to apply an “extreme risk protective order” against individuals who commit (or are likely to commit) violent crimes.
This protective order would prevent these individuals from purchasing firearms, and requires that they prove they got rid of their guns within 24 hours of the the date the order went into effect.
Protections for LGBTQ Population
Under the newly signed “Virginia Values Act,” gender identity and sexual orientation are now protected under the Commonwealth’s anti-discrimination laws.
The district attorney will be able to take up cases against employers, housing professionals, and public servants who have patterns of discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Additionally, hate crimes based on orientation and identity are now treated the same as other hate crimes.
On another front, newly passed laws protect LGBTQ youth.
Licensed health professionals can no longer practice conversion therapy. This law excludes religious leaders.
Voting will also be a lot easier this November.
One law removes the photo ID requirement to vote. Instead, voters can use any official document that shows their name and address, from the same materials they used to register to their pay stubs.
Another law has removed the need for an approved excuse to use absentee ballots.
Previously, the application had a list of excuses to choose from. Now voters can vote by absentee without having to provide a reason.
Fewer Restrictions on Abortions
Previous laws created additional steps in getting an abortion.
These additional steps included a 24-hour waiting period, an ultrasound, and required counseling.
These steps have been rolled back.
The repeal is part of a larger “Virginia Reproductive Health Act,” which mostly aims to make women’s health more accessible.
No More License Suspension for Court Debt
Starting July, you cannot have your license suspended for outstanding court debt.
The law also applies to those who already have a suspended license, who should receive a letter detailing how to reinstate their license in the near future.
Previous laws made many lose driving privileges based only on their inability to pay basic or arbitrary court fees.
Insulin Price Cap
Virginia has also set a maximum price on insulin, at $50 per month.
This is in response to skyrocketing costs, which have caused deaths as patients ration their insulin.
Gambling in Virginia
Virginia has allowed for the opening of casinos in 5 cities.
Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Richmond could all see casinos opening very soon.
However, cities will have to approve the casino operators before they can open.
Virginia has also approved sports betting for the state.
However, the Virginia Lottery must create a framework of regulations before September 15.
Protections for Renters
Virginia has also issued laws that help protect renters from predatory practices committed by landlords.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, many of these laws went active before July.
One law caps the maximum fee a landlord can charge for late payment at 10% of the rent.
Others aim to hold landlords more accountable.
For example, if a renter requests repairs that are within the rental agreement, the landlord has 14 days to remedy the issue.
If they fail to fix the issue, then the tenant can fix it themselves.
The landlord will then be accountable to the tenant to reimburse them.
Changes to Reckless Driving
Virginia’s previous laws stated that if a driver was going 20 mph over the speed limit, or over 80 mph, they could be charged with reckless driving.
The General Assembly has changed this. Although you are still culpable if you are driving 20 over the speed limit, you cannot be found for reckless driving unless you are exceeding 85 mph on the highways.
Updated State Holidays
Lee-Jackson day was a state holiday, and sometimes fell on the same day as MLK day.
Now it will no longer be an official holiday.
Instead, Virginia has opted to make Election day a state holiday.
Many cities have already stopped officially celebrating Lee-Jackson day.
Mitigating Sexual Abuse
Virginia has encoded several bills that seek to expand the protection, justice, and aid of sexual abuse victims.
One of these increases the statute of limitations on sexual assaults against minors from 1 year after the 18th birthday of the victim to 5 years after.
For civil cases where victims are suing for damages, the statute of limitations is 10 years.
Another bill provides health care centers with greater resources for sexual assault victims.
Another protection is stricter penalties for failing to register as a sex offender.
Driving Privileges for Undocumented Immigrants
Now, immigrants in the commonwealth will be able to get cards that certify their certification to drive.
Immigrants will have to pass a driver’s test but will not need to prove citizenship.
The state government has raised the gas tax, with plans to raise it further in the future.
On top of this increase, regional gas taxes will also apply to the whole state. This will make a noticeable rise in gas prices for some areas of the state.
It is expected that this will help fund new transportation projects in cities across the central region.
Cities where projects are largely in the Richmond area such as: Richmond, Henrico, Hanover, Goochland, and Powhatan to name a few.
Equal Rights Amendment
Virginia has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, becoming the last state needed to enshrine the amendment in the constitution.
This amendment was ratified at the national level in 1972, but has been hung up at the state level since.
Virginia ratifying the amendment allows it to then be added to the constitution, allowing gender equality to be explicitly included in the constitution.
As a caveat, the US Department of Justice has stated that Virginia missed the deadline, and Virginia is pursuing this matter in court.
Leaving Pets Outside
Just in time for the late summer heat, Virginia has made it illegal to neglect the basic needs of animals who are left outside.
Animal control officers who are dispatched to houses with animals left outside will analyze the circumstances of the pet.
Specifically, the law protects pets when it is hotter than 85 degrees, colder than 32, or severe weather.
If they find that the pet is left vulnerable to predators and the elements, without shelter, and without the proper food and water, they might take action.
Keeping up with the updates to Virginia code can be a difficult task.
It can also be extremely important to know how the updated law can affect you. Everyone from business owners to apartment renters are affected when the law changes.
If you have any doubts, concerns, or questions about the new legal code and you, reach out to an attorney.