Opinion: Commentary: New Laws Coming This Week

Opinion: Commentary: New Laws Coming This Week

This week, on July 1st, the Commonwealth will see a host of new legislative changes, over 1000 new laws, as a majority of the bills that the General Assembly passed during the historic 2020 legislative session go into effect for the first time. Last week, we delved into the many new laws that will affect the way we vote in Virginia, but now I would like to give a brief overview of just a few of the laws that will have a positive effect on our daily lives here in the Commonwealth:

  • Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, the workplace, and public accommodations is now illegal.

  • Drivers must fully stop for pedestrians who have entered a crosswalk and wait for them to finish crossing, even if they are not directly in the driver’s lane.

  • It will be illegal for drivers to use handheld devices while operating a vehicle.

  • Failure to wear a safety belt anywhere in the vehicle has been escalated to a primary offense.

  • All passengers in a motor vehicle must utilize a safety belt, a multi-year effort of mine that is now the law.

  • State and local law enforcement agencies will be allowed to operate photo speed monitoring devices in and around school crossing zones and highway work zones to record images of vehicles traveling at least 10 mph over the posted speed limit, and the driver could be fined a civil penalty of no more than $100.

  • Insurers will be limited to charging a maximum of $50 a month for insulin prescriptions. This law gives the Commonwealth the fourth lowest insulin cap in the country.

  • The Reproduction Health Protection Act rolls back the onerous 24-hour waiting period and requirements that pregnant persons seeking abortion care must undergo an ultrasound and counseling.

  • Marijuana decriminalization: criminal charges for simple possession of less than an ounce of marijuana will be replaced with a $25 civil penalty.

  • The requirement that an individual’s driver’s license must be suspended for unpaid court fees is repealed. Black people disproportionately have had their licenses suspended for nonpayment and this will address that inequity.

  • Undocumented students living in Virginia, who meet Virginia residency standards, are now eligible for in-state tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities.

  • The Virginia Human Rights Act is expanded to now include prohibitions on discrimination related to hairstyles and hair textures, commonly used as forms of racial discrimination.

  • Employers will now be required to make reasonable accommodations for the known limitations of a person related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. Employers are prohibited from taking adverse action against an employee who requests reasonable accommodation or denying employment or promotion opportunities because the employer would have to provide accommodations.

  • Tethering of dogs outside during extreme weather (below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or above 85 degrees, and during warnings for hurricanes, tornadoes, and severe weather) will be prohibited. This measure also increases the minimum length of a tether from 10 feet to 15 feet.

  • There are a number of gun safety reform laws. I will just highlight one, the “one-gun-a-month” bill, which returns the former 1993 limitation Virginia had (that was repealed in 2012) on handgun purchases to one gun every thirty days. By 1995, according to a study then by the Virginia Crime Commission, Virginia fell from 1st to 8th in states identified as the largest source for firearm trafficking.

  • Many laws on improving transparency in government including that public universities and colleges are now prohibited from approving an increase in undergraduate tuition or mandatory fees without providing students and the public notice of the date, time, and location of the meeting at which public comment will be heard on the matter.

Many of these measures were hard-fought for and finally pushed over the finish line this year by our new Democratic majority. There are many more good laws, including those that I introduced on behalf of constituents, which you can look up on the Legislative Information System website. Our goal this year was to pass laws that create a safer, more efficient, prosperous, and more inclusive Commonwealth for all Virginians; and, on July 1st this vision is being realized.

We still have much work to do later this summer when we meet in a special session in August to address systemic racial injustice, police reform, and reshape the state budget under the constraints imposed by COVID-19, but this milestone marks a monumental step forward for Virginia. Next week, I will highlight the many laws we passed to protect the environment and combat the climate change crisis. Please stay safe wearing your mask and practicing social distancing and necessary handwashing.