New Virginia Laws Champion Human Rights, Justice Reform, Protections for Children & Animals

New Virginia Laws Champion Human Rights, Justice Reform, Protections for Children & Animals

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Virginia State Capitol ExteriorMajor steps forward in human rights, criminal justice reform, and protections for minors & animals are among Virginia laws taking effect July 1. This legislative session saw the addition of new laws, and the removal of some others: Such as striking down a Jim Crow-era holdover that allowed employers to pay less than minimum wage to positions that were traditionally held by African Americans, like ushers and doormen. Below are a few highlights (with Virginia House or Senate bill numbers in parentheses if you want to look up more details); click here for a full overview

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Protections This new law prohibits discrimination in public and private employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and codifies for state and local government employment the current prohibitions on discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability or status as a veteran. (SB 868)

The PWC Human Rights Ordinance has also been updated as per the provisions of HB 696 to allow our Human Rights Commission to investigate complaints of discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodation, and credit on the basis of sexual orientation abd gender identity (along with statis as a veteran or pregnancy.)

Pedestrian Safety The new law requires drivers to stop (not just yield) to pedestrians in marked and unmarked crosswalks until the pedestrian has cleared the lane. This includes all lanes and both directions at clearly marked crosswalks; any regular pedestrian crossing (such as residential intersections) even if unmarked; or at any intersection where the maximum speed limit is not more than 35 miles per hour. (HB 1705)

Enhanced Firearms Safety Several new laws pertaining to firearms take effect July 1. These include:

  • Allowing localities to regulate firearms in government buildings, parks, recreation centers and at permitted events. (HB 421/SB 35)
  • Requiring background checks for any firearm sale. (HB 2/SB 70)
  • Requiring any loss or theft of a firearm to be reported within 48 hours. (HB 9)
  • Changing the charge to a Class 1 misdemeanor for endangering children under 14 by a leaving loaded, unsecured firearm in their presence. (HB 1083)
  • Prohibiting the purchase of more than one handgun in a 30-day period by any person who is not a licensed firearms dealer. (HB 812/SB 69)
  • Allowing attorneys and law enforcement officers to apply for emergency orders to prohibit a person who poses a substantial risk of injury to himself or others from purchasing, possessing or transporting a firearm. (HB 674/SB 240)

Expanded Voter Access No-excuse absentee voting is allowed for the entire 45-day absentee voting period, including both in-person and by-mail voting. (HB 1/SB 111). Election Day becomes a holiday and Lee-Jackson Day is removed as a holiday. (HB108/SB 601)

Animal Cruelty Provides that any person who tortures, willfully inflicts inhumane injury or pain not connected with bona fide scientific or medical experimentation, or cruelly and unnecessarily beats, maims, or mutilates any dog or cat that is a companion animal whether belonging to him or another and as a direct result causes serious bodily injury to such dog or cat is guilty of a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to 6 years in jail and an up to $2,500 fine. ( SB 1276 ,HB 1874) Another law makes it illegal to tether a dog outside in extreme weather and raises the minimum tether length to 15 feet. (HB 1552, SB 272)

Solar Freedom This law has a number of components that lift barriers to customer-sited renewable energy, including rooftop solar, including allowing local government entities to install solar facilities of up to 5 MW on government-owned property and use the electricity for schools or other government-owned buildings located on nearby property, even if not contiguous. (HB 572/SB 710/HB 1184)

Marijuana Decriminalization A new law decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana and directs executive branch secretaries to convene a workgroup to study marijuana legalization with a report due by Nov. 30, 2020. (HB 972/SB 2), while another states that no person may be arrested, prosecuted, or denied any right or privilege for participating in the state’s nascent medical cannabis program (HB 301/SB 1015)

Naloxone Administration Protections A person who is not otherwise authorized to administer naloxone is allowed do so in good faith to a person who is believed to be experiencing or about to experience a life-threatening opioid overdose. (SB 566)

Confederate Monuments Localities are permitted to remove, relocate, contextualize or cover any monument or memorial to war veterans on the locality’s public property, not including a monument or memorial located in a publicly owned cemetery, regardless of when the monument or memorial was erected. (HB 1537/SB 183)

Towing The new law raises the additional fee that can be charged for towing a vehicle at night, on weekends or on a holiday from $25 to $30. (HB 1511/SB 916)

Tobacco Use The minimum age to purchase tobacco products raises to 21 (HB 2748/SB 1727) and smoking in a vehicle with a passenger under age 15  is now prohibited (HB 578).