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New Laws and Happy Independence Day

Greetings from the Bulova Family kitchen table! I wish you and your family a happy and healthy Independence Day. As we prepare to celebrate, I am pleased to share with you the fruits of our representative democracy.

July 1 is when most of the laws passed during the 2020 General Assembly session go into effect. While it seems ages ago, this was one of the busiest and most productive sessions in recent memory, with 1,289 bills signed into law by the Governor. Each year, the Division of Legislative Services publishes "In Due Course," which provides a summary of legislation passed that is likely to impact the daily lives of Virginians.

This year, I am pleased that two of my bills made the list. HB1012 strengthens Virginia's system of early childhood education. The legislation streamlines state oversight responsibilities and requires the development of a uniform quality rating system for publicly funded programs so that parents can be assured that their child is receiving quality care. HB516 adds dual enrollment courses to the coursework that is eligible for a student to fulfill the advanced coursework requirement for high school graduation. Dual enrollment courses are taught by college faculty and have the added benefit of being portable to future higher education. Promoting dual enrollment has been a priority for Virginia since it is strongly linked to workforce development.

Below is just a sampling of the new laws that go into effect today. I hope you will take the time to look through the full In Due Course. Also available is the 2020 Session Summary, which provides a complete list of bills introduced by subject area and whether they passed, failed, or were carried over.

  • Handheld Communication Devices While Driving (HB874) - Prohibits any person from holding a handheld personal communication device while driving a motor vehicle. Instead, the driver must use "hands-free" technology. The bill has a delayed effective date of January 1, 2021.
  • Reckless Driving (HB885) - Raises the threshold for when speeding is considered reckless in a 70 mile per hour zone from 80 to 85 miles per hour.
  • Balance Billing (HB1251) - Simple explanation, this bill bans the most common forms of balance billing by health insurance that results in surprise bills for out-of-network providers. Technical explanation, the new law provides that when an enrollee receives emergency services from an out-of-network provider, or receives out-of-network surgical or ancillary serves at an in-network facility, the enrollee is not required to pay the out-of-network provider any amount other than the applicable cost-sharing requirement.
  • Mental Health Training (HB74) - Requires each school board to adopt and implement policies for teachers and other relevant personnel to complete mental health awareness training.
  • Minimum Wage (HB395) - Increases the minimum wage from the federal minimum of $7.25/hour to $9.50/hour effective May 1, 2021; $11/hour effective January 1, 2022; $12/hour effective January 1, 2023; $13.50 per hour effective January 1, 2025; and $15/hour effective January 1, 2026. Starting January 1, 2027, the minimum wage will be annually adjusted to reflect the consumer price index. The increases scheduled for 2025 and 2026 will not occur unless reenacted by the General Assembly.
  • Animal Tethering (HB1552) - Enacts several changes to when outdoor tethering of an animal is not permissible, including during a hurricane or tropical storm warning or if the animal is not protected from predators or is not well suited to tolerate its environment.
  • Local Human Rights Ordinances (HB696) - Allows any local government to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, credit, and education on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Confederate Monuments (HB1537) - Establishes a process for local government to remove, relocate, or contextualize war monuments or memorials located on public property. This does not include monuments or memorials in a publicly-owned cemetery.
  • Possession of Marijuana (HB972) - Makes several changes to Virginia's marijuana laws, including replacing the criminal penalty for simple possession ($500 fine and maximum 30-day jail sentence for a first offense) with a civil penalty of no more than $25, similar to a ticket for a driving violation. Simple possession is defined as less than an ounce.  Past convictions will no longer be reported to the Central Criminal Records Exchange.
  • Suspension of Driver's License for Nonpayment of Fines (HB1196) - Removes the requirement that a driver's license be suspended if the person fails to pay fines or court costs. This is meant to ensure that a person's means to get to work (and to pay off the fees) isn't taken away. The law retains other means of collecting fines and court costs.
  • Prohibited Discrimination (SB868) - Expands the Virginia Human Rights Act to create a cause of action for discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of public accommodations, housing, and employment.
  • Consumer Lending (HB789) - Reforms Virginia's payday and auto title lending laws by establishing the annual interest rate at 36% plus maintenance fees. The repealed law allowed for effective interest rates topping 250%.
  • Firearms Background Checks (HB2) - Requires a background check for any firearm sale.
  • Lost or Stolen Firearms (HB9) - Requires that if a firearm is lost or stolen, the person who lawfully possessed it must report the loss or theft within 48 hours of becoming aware of the loss or theft to the State Police.
  • Firearms in Public Buildings (HB421) - Authorizes any locality to prohibit the possession of firearms or ammunition in any building used for governmental purposes, any public park or recreation center, or any public street or right-of-way being used for a public event requiring a permit.
  • Removal of Firearms from Persons Posing a Substantial Risk (HB674) - Creates a process by which a Commonwealth's Attorney or a law-enforcement officer may apply to a court to temporarily prohibit a person who poses a substantial risk of injury to him/herself or others from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm.
  • One Handgun a Month (HB812) - Reinstates Virginia's limitation of one handgun purchase per month. Certain exemptions are permitted under the law.
  • Casino Gaming (HB4) - Authorizes the cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Richmond, Danville, and Bristol to establish casinos subject to state regulation and the passage of a local referendum.
  • Online Sports Betting (HB896) - Legalizes and regulates online sports betting and creates a Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Fund. Online sports betting, while previously illegal, is prolific and did not have any consumer protections. Betting on Virginia colleges and youth sports is still prohibited.
  • Stay of Eviction/Foreclosure (HB340) - Provides a 60-day stay of any unlawful detainer for nonpayment of rent for tenants and a 30-day stay of foreclosure for certain landlords (those who rent between one to four dwelling units) whose income has been affected by a federal government furlough. The bill was expanded to include Emergency Declarations by the Governor, including COVID-19.  This bill had an emergency clause and went into effect on April 22.
  • Survivors of Sexual Assault (HB808) - Requires every hospital in Virginia to provide treatment or transfer services for survivors of sexual assault and establishes a Task Force on Services for Survivors of Sexual Assault.
  • Student Journalists (HB36) - Declares that student journalists at public institutions of higher education have the right to exercise freedom of speech and the press in institution-sponsored media.
  • Notification of Tuition Increase (HB715) - Requires the governing board of a public institution of higher education to provide students and the public with notice of the date, time, and location they can provide comment on any planned increase in tuition or mandatory fees.
  • Eligibility for In-State Tuition (HB1547) - Provides that any student is eligible for in-state tuition who attended high school in Virginia for at least two years, graduated from high school or home instruction in Virginia, and has submitted evidence that he/she, or a guardian, has paid Virginia income taxes for at least two years prior to registration.
  • Source of Income for Rentals (HB6) - Prohibits discrimination based on a prospective renter's source of legal income as long as the source is approved within 15 days of the person's tenancy application. The purpose is to prevent refusal to accept federal Housing Choice vouchers.
  • Cost-Sharing for Insulin (HB66) - Establishes $50 as the maximum co-pay that can be charged by a health insurance company for a 30-day supply of insulin.
  • Child Care/Storage of Firearms (HB600) - Requires firearms at licensed family day care and similar facilities to be stored, locked, and unloaded during operating hours.
  • Reporting of Child Abuse (HB904) - Adds athletic coaches, directors, and those over 18 employed with or volunteering with public sports teams to the list of mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect.
  • Financial Exploitation (SB391) - Strengthens the reporting requirements for financial institutions who suspect that a transaction or disbursement may involve financial exploitation of an adult
  • State Holidays (HB108) - Removes Lee-Jackson Day as an official state holiday and makes Election Day an official state holiday.
  • Plastic Bags (HB534) - Authorizes any county or city, starting January 1, 2021, to impose a five cent per bag tax on certain disposable plastic bags. The law includes exemptions for certain uses (such as bags used for sanitary purposes to hold meat and vegetables).
  • Local Tax Authority (HB785) - Diversifies revenue sources available for counties. In Virginia, cities and towns have traditionally had more options for revenue generation, which means property taxes can be kept lower. This has led to the odd predicament that a small town has more revenue generating authority than 1.2 million strong Fairfax County. This bill modifies or eliminates several of the restrictions placed on counties. It is up to the local governing board to decide if it wants to implement this authority.
  • Smoking in a Motor Vehicle (HB578) - Expands the prohibition on smoking in a vehicle with a minor present from under age eight to under age 15.
  • Transportation Funding (HB1414) - Amends numerous laws related to transportation funds, revenue sources, construction, and safety programs. The existing gas tax based on a percentage of the wholesale price of gasoline is converted to cents-per-gallon tax. The new rate of $0.262 per gallon will be phased in over two years.  Importantly, it will then be indexed every year thereafter to keep up with inflation.
  • Virginia Clean Economy Act (HB1526) - Establishes a schedule for Dominion Energy and American Electric Power (Virginia's two primary electric utilities) to produce electricity from 100 percent renewable sources by 2045 and 2050, respectively. The sources are purposefully diversified in order to maximize economic competition.
  • Chesapeake Bay Restoration (HB1422) - Establishes December 31, 2025 as the date to achieve Chesapeake Bay pollutant reduction targets. The law also sets in place requirements for implementing livestock stream exclusion and nutrient management plans for agricultural operations if the targets are not achieved.
  • Worker's Compensation for Law Enforcement and Firefighters (HB438) - Adds post-traumatic stress disorder incurred by a law enforcement officer or firefighter as compensable under the Virginia Worker's Compensation Act.
  • No-Excuse Absentee Voting (HB1) - Permits any registered voter to vote by absentee ballot without having to identify a specific excuse.
  • Voter Identification (HB19) - Repeals the requirement to show photo-ID to vote, adds additional forms of accepted identification, and allows an affidavit to be signed in lieu of providing identification. Voter fraud, including false statements, is punishable as a Class 5 felony.

In addition, the General Assembly passed resolutions to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and to send to voters a proposed constitutional amendment to create a Virginia Redistricting Commission to handle the redistricting process.

There is lots more in the online versionAnd of course, don't hesitate to contact me if you have thoughts or questions. It is an honor to represent you. Have a safe and happy 4th of July!