From death penalty to releasing balloons: Virginia laws that go into effect July 1

On Thursday, July 1, several new laws go into effect in Virginia, reflecting the priorities of Democratic lawmakers — in particular a House of Delegates that  flipped in 2019 — as well as Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.

The Free Lance-Star laid out some of the most contentious bills that will become law this week.

The death penalty will be abolished in Virginia, making the Commonwealth the first state in the south to eliminate capital punishment.

As of July 1, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana will be legal in Virginia, for people 21 years or older.

Teachers will be evaluated on cultural competence moving forward. Standards will be set by the Virginia Board of Education. Schools will also be required to be open five days a week for in-person learning.

Anyone convicted of assaulting a family or household member is prohibited from purchasing or possessing a gun for three years. Virginians are also banned from carrying a gun in state buildings, the capitol and on state capitol grounds.

State employees, including teachers and college and university faculty and staff, will receive a 5% raise. State troopers will get an additional 3% raise, plus pay for each year of service.

Health care providers who have fallen ill, or died, as a result of COVID-19 will be able to be compensated under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Discrimination on the basis of disability will also be unlawful under the Virginia Human Rights Act.

Election officials will now be required to provide prepaid postage on absentee ballot return envelopes. Anyone other than law enforcement will also be banned from possessing a gun within 40 feet of a polling place on Election Day. And, disabled voters will be allowed to vote outside a designated polling facility.

Anyone convicted of animal cruelty will be banned from working at a pet shop or commercial dog breeder. Those wishing to adopt or purchase a dog from a pet shop must first sign a statement declaring they’ve never been convicted of animal cruelty.

Criminal investigative files in cases that are old or closed must be released to the public within 65 days of a request. Police agencies will be banned from using facial-recognition technology.

A parent expecting to be deported or incarcerated over an immigration issue may petition a court to approve a guardian for the parent’s minor child.

Motorists must change lanes before passing a bicyclist unless there is 3 feet of clearance between the vehicle and the bicyclist when passing.

The maximum fine for littering or dumping trash increases to $500 from $250.

Intentionally releasing balloons outdoors is banned. Punishment will be a civil penalty of $25 per balloon.

Glynis Kazanjian

Glynis Kazanjian has been a freelance writer covering Maryland politics and government on the local, state and federal levels for the last 11 years. Her work is published in Maryland Matters, the Baltimore Post Examiner, Bethesda Beat and Md. Reporter. She has also worked as a true crime researcher.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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