Driving, drugs, schools and more among new Virginia laws

As many as 7% of Virginians could have their drivers’ licenses restored under a new law that takes effect Monday. It’s one of many changes for things like transportation, education, families, animal welfare, and tobacco, alcohol and other drugs that take effect July 1.

The drivers’ license restoration ends Virginia’s practice of suspending licenses for unrelated unpaid court fines. Those who are eligible can apply for a new license or can use their suspended licenses, if they have not expired.

Transportation changes

For drivers, immediate law changes include a ban on all handheld cellphone use in work zones. Elsewhere, Virginia’s ban only on texting or emailing while driving continues, since a safety push to ban handheld cellphone use statewide failed this year.

Virginia State Police are also now authorized to use handheld speed cameras in highway work zones. It is the first time that any kind of speed cameras will be permitted in Virginia.

There is also now a tougher penalty for drivers who fail to move over or slow down when passing police or other first responders on the side of the road. It is now a misdemeanor rather than a traffic infraction for a first offense. It remains a traffic infraction to fail to move over for tow trucks and similar vehicles.

Lawmakers also toughened penalties for drunk driving or drunk boating that results in serious injury. The rules and the legal limits for drunk and drugged boating did not change.

Local governments are now authorized to regulate shared electric scooter or skateboard companies; the scooters could be allowed to go up to 20 mph. The scooters can be allowed on sidewalks and must be used on the far right side of the road when riding with traffic. Some parts of that bill won’t take effect until January.

One of the biggest long-term transportation changes is the start of work to improve Interstate 81 and other major highways across the commonwealth.

New truck fees, a regional gas tax, a statewide diesel tax and other changes will be phased in over the coming years. The implementation and prioritization of improvements along I-81 will be governed by a special regional committee. Money from the statewide taxes will be distributed to interstates across Virginia, including Interstate 95 and Interstate 66.

The budget bill requires further study of broader transportation tax changes that could be considered in next year’s General Assembly session.

Lawmakers are separately scheduled to return July 9 for a special session called after May’s mass shooting in Virginia Beach.

In other transportation changes, Fairfax County is now authorized to issue permits enabling residents to ignore cut-through turn restrictions, children are now required to be in rear-facing car seats until age 2 or until they reach an appropriate weight to sit facing forward, and remedial driving courses can now be taken online.

Parking enforcement can expand in places like Loudoun County under a bill allowing not just cities to contract out operations.

Courts can also now dismiss tickets for expired car registrations if the car owner provides proof of registration before the court date.

Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles can now offer special ID cards without a photo to people with religious beliefs that prevent them from being in pictures, and the DMV can now designate on identification cards that someone is blind or vision impaired.

Car inspection fees increase from $16 to $20, and cars used as taxicabs no longer need to have that designation on a title as part of a sale.

More state agencies can run electric car charging stations, school bus operators are required to get more safety training, and insurance companies are blocked from refusing to issue car insurance to foster parents or foster kids.

For those looking for a snack, food trucks licensed in one Virginia locality now can operate in any other locality.

The General Assembly also approved a number of new specialty license plates for various causes or groups.

Education and schools

Virginia’s decades-old “Kings Dominion Law” was essentially repealed this session, so schools across the state can now open up to two weeks before Labor Day.

Any school that did not already have a waiver to open before Labor Day must give students the Friday before Labor Day off. Schools that had a waiver this past school year can continue to start more than two weeks before Labor Day. A related bill allows Fredericksburg to start at the same time as its neighboring school systems.

The state budget also funds teacher raises of up to 3% July 1 and 2% Sept. 1, if local school systems provide their share of the increases.

Parents now get the chance to review any anti-bullying videos before their kids see them in class. High school family life education classes are also now required, rather than allowed, to teach about the law and meaning of sexual consent.

The Virginia Department of Education must now collect and publish information on how many students are stuck in alternative education programs for those expelled or suspended from regular schools.

The department also must review rules on seclusion and restraint of students and create safety standards. There are also some changes to make it easier for relocated military families to register kids for public school and to transfer a spouse’s certifications.

Similar changes for foreign service officers give their families in-state tuition at state universities if the family lived in Virginia for at least 90 days before being assigned overseas and the officer is still assigned abroad.

Virginia’s prepaid 529 plan also changes to cover a portion of tuition at schools besides the main state colleges and universities.

School safety measures include newly required reviews of school building plans and additional annual training requirements. Private schools are also now allowed to hire a school security officer with a gun to deal with school policy or other violations.

In response to a boy’s death, Virginia will now require annual safety reviews of the use of electronic room partitions in schools. They will not be allowed to be opened or closed when students are in the room unless there is an automatic safety sensor to stop the partition moving if someone is in the way.

Tobacco age rises

The minimum age to purchase tobacco or vaping products rises from 18 to 21, except for active-duty military members. Schools must ban the use of tobacco or vapes on school buses, school property and at school-sponsored events.

A study of raising cigarette taxes continues. Schools will also be required to teach about the health and safety risks of using tobacco, vaping and other nicotine products.

Alcohol

Finding the best happy hour in Virginia will get easier.

A bill passed in response to a free speech lawsuit allows bars and restaurants to advertise actual prices and use catchy slogans. Bars were only recently allowed to say that they had a happy hour at all.

Other alcohol changes allow ABC stores to open three hours earlier on Sunday, at 10 a.m., add new licenses for coworking spaces and special events in downtown areas, and begin the process of turning Virginia’s remaining “dry” counties into “wet” ones over the next year.

Marijuana and THC

School nurses will not be prosecuted for giving THC oil to a student who has a doctor’s prescription.

A doctor would have to fill out a special certification form. School boards can set policies for THC oil. Doctors are banned from mentioning marijuana prescriptions in advertising now, but they can say they issue THC oil certifications.

Pets are also now allowed to get THC oil or other products with other marijuana-derived ingredients that are intended for animals.

An emergency bill that became law in March expanded hemp production in Virginia, in compliance with last year’s federal Farm Bill.

Naloxone, opioids

School nurses and other school health staff were added to the list of people who can possess and administer the opioid overdose reversal drug Naloxone.

Emergency room employees and regional jail workers are among others added to the list.
Medical providers will not be allowed to charge any more than the cost of buying the drug.

In another drug-related change, people who call 911 to save someone who has overdosed no longer need to completely cooperate with investigators in order to get a waiver of prosecution under Good Samaritan rules.

Prisons and penalties

After women were turned away, Virginia’s Department of Corrections must make new policies on visitors wearing tampons available to the public, and allow them.

Other policy reviews include consideration of restraint of pregnant prisoners, reports on the number of people put in solitary confinement and similar restrictive housing.

Police can use drones to look at the home of a person they have an arrest warrant for, or as part of a chase of someone running away.

Among tougher criminal penalties, capital murder of a law enforcement officer or public safety official now requires a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison.

A newly expanded law makes sharing “deepfakes” — photos or videos edited to make it appear like a person is in them — just as illegal as sharing real nude photos or images of someone without that person’s permission.

Among several anti-sex trafficking measures, a travel agent is guilty of a misdemeanor if they help arrange travel for the purpose of prostitution or sex with minors.

At work, nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements that would keep sexual assault accusations secret are now invalid in Virginia.

Prisoners eligible for parole can get a presentencing report without a court order.

Someone who gets an absolute pardon for a crime they did not commit now gets automatic expungement of police and court records, rather than needing to petition the court.

Family

Major changes to Virginia’s surrogacy laws make it easier for same-sex couples or single people, and smooth the process of having a child using an embryo that neither of the intended parents are genetically related to.

In a step that could make it slightly easier to find day care, there is now a presumption that home-based child care is a residential use under zoning and homeowners’ association policies unless the HOA explicitly bans it.

State workers will now be permanently guaranteed paid family leave and must be provided space to pump breast milk at work.

Minimum wage exceptions — some of which dated back to the Jim Crow era — have been lifted. Among other changes, it means babysitters who work 10 or more hours a week now qualify for minimum wage rules.

In other changes, clergy must now report suspicions of child abuse to authorities, except in cases in which their religion or legal privilege requires that the information be kept secret.

People with autism will now have better insurance coverage. Until now, Virginia had only required coverage from ages 2 to 10; that age cap has been eliminated for polices starting next year.

Foster children will get security freezes on their credit reports to prevent identity theft.

Similarly, Virginia’s rules for requiring notification of data breaches now include instances where passport numbers or military identification numbers are exposed.

Several efforts to address Virginia’s eviction crisis also become law, including a new eviction diversion pilot program.

Parents or others responsible for the continuous care of children younger than 16 now can get a multiyear exemption from jury duty.

Assisted living facilities now must disclose whether they have a backup generator in the event of a power outage.

Only a licensed funeral service can sell a casket to someone before they die, and a third-party casket only has to be accepted by the funeral home if it is purchased after death.

Animals

A number of changes for pets and hunting also take effect Monday.

A court can now defer a dangerous dog designation if the owner agrees to conditions for keeping the dog from injuring any other people or animals.

A new definition of adequate shelter explains that a pet outside in the heat must have shade and a pet out in cold weather must have protection from the wind and some type of bedding. If tied up, pets must also have at least a 10-foot leash (or, as in the past, a leash that is three times their body length).

Local governments are also now allowed to ban two or more dogs from running off-leash together, which could carry a fine of up to $100 per dog.

There is a tougher penalty for “wanton waste,” or allowing killed or crippled game animals or birds to be wasted without making a reasonable effort to retrieve them.

Virginia residents are now allowed to buy a short-term trip hunting license, which had previously been restricted to out-of-state hunters.

People are also now allowed to shoot certain animals such as coyotes, crows and feral swine from cars on private property.

Animal control officers are now permitted to seize tethered cocks if they determine the tied-up animal is intended to be used in cockfighting.

The penalty for cruelty to animals also increased to a felony, even in cases in which the animal survives.

Development

Major fixes kick in Monday to proffer legislation that stalled a significant amount of development in Northern Virginia.

The changes allow for more negotiation and flexibility between local governments and developers. Another bill allows local governments to require sidewalks as part of new developments.

Fairfax County also can get power lines put underground as part of the Embark Richmond Highway project, which is set to overhaul and redevelop part of Route 1. Power bills in the county would increase slightly to pay for it.

Similar increases are expected statewide due to Dominion’s coal ash pond closure plans.

The General Assembly also passed bills creating the multimillion-dollar funds to pay out cash incentives to Amazon in Arlington and to Micron in Manassas.

Starting Monday, online retailers such as Amazon will need to collect Virginia sales taxes if they do at least $100,000 per year or 200 transactions with Virginia residents. Amazon was doing that before the law’s passage.

For local tax records, treasurers are no longer required to keep a “well-bound book.” They now can use digital or other record-keeping methods.

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