On July 1, 2021 at 12:01 a.m., a wide range of bills approved by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Ralph Northam officially became law in the Commonwealth. Below is a list of changes that may impact you:
Adults 21 and older are now allowed to have up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational private use and gift up to once ounce of marijuana to another adult.
Last year, Virginia had initiated steps to legalize marijuana by 2024, however Governor Northam signed S.B.1406 and H.B. 2312 which accelerated legalization. These laws also allow each household to cultivate up to four marijuana plants, so long as they are kept away from children and clearly labeled.
Retail sales of marijuana, however, won’t be legalized until 2024.
Click here to find Virginia’s official website regarding the new law.
New laws are now making it easier for people in Virginia to cast their ballots. H.B. 1968 allows registrars, at their discretion, to offer in-person absentee voting on Sundays. Additionally, S.B. 1097 waives the witness signature requirement on absentee ballots during a public health emergency.
New laws are also addressing voting and accessibility. H.B. 1921 permits curbside voting for those with disabilities and S.B. 1331 requires localities to have tools to allow voters with visual impairments or print disabilities to electronically receive and mark absentee ballots.
H.B. 1888 allows Virginians that have applied for an absentee ballot to vote to instead vote at their polling place if they desire. They will have to turn in their absentee ballot and may have to vote using a provisional ballot at their polling place.
H.B. 1790 allows schools to utilize remote learning during days in which school is closed for inclement weather or emergency situations.
H.B. 2013 requires every school board in the Commonwealth to adopt a policy prohibiting the board from filing a lawsuit against a student or their parents because the student cannot pay for a meal at school or owes a school meal debt.
S.B. 1196 and H.B. 1904 require every person seeking initial licensure or renewal of a license to complete instruction or training in cultural competency and every person seeking initial licensure or renewal of a license with an endorsement in history and social sciences to complete instruction in African American history.
S.B. 1475 details that search warrants must be completed between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. unless a judge or a magistrate authorizes a search for another time based on good cause.
H.B. 2031 prohibits local law enforcement and campus law enforcement from using facial recognition technology.
H.B. 2128 allows the Department of State Police to complete a background check before a firearm may be transferred within five business days instead of three.
H.B. 1992 details that a person who has been convicted of assault and battery of a family or household member cannot purchase, possess, or transport a firearm for three years after the date of conviction.
H.B. 2081 prohibits people carrying firearms within 40 feet of a polling place, including one hour before and one hour after its use as a polling place.
H.B. 1909 Permits school boards to deem any non-school zone building or property which it owns or leases where employees of the board are regularly present for the purpose of performing their official duties as a gun-free zone.
H.B. 2295 Makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor for a person to carry any firearm or explosive material within (i) the Capitol of Virginia; (ii) Capitol Square and the surrounding area; (iii) any building owned or leased by the Commonwealth or any agency thereof; or (iv) any office where employees of the Commonwealth or any agency thereof are regularly present for the purpose of performing their official duties. The bill provides exceptions for certain individuals while acting in the conduct of their official duties.
VIRGINIA HUMAN RIGHTS ACT
H.B. 1848 makes discrimination based on disability an unlawful discriminatory practice under the Virginia Human Rights Act. Employers must now post information concerning an employee’s rights to reasonable accommodation for disabilities in a conspicuous place, include the same in any employee handbook and provided the same to new employees at hire and to any employee within 10 days of the employee providing notice of a disability.
H.B. 1889 extends eviction protections for renters experiencing financial hardship due to COVID 19 through July 1, 2022.
CONFEDERATES & SEGREGATIONISTS
Two bills taking effect aim to remove honors from Confederates and segregationists. H.B. 1854 allows Arlington County to rename its stretch of Lee Highway, named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee. H.B. 2208 allows a statue of Harry Byrd, Sr., which stands in Capitol Square in Richmond, to be taken down. Byrd, a segregationist, served as governor of Virginia and as a U.S. senator.
S.B. 1227 will allow those on Medicaid to receive up to a twelve (12) month supply of birth control at one time.
RELEASE OF BALLOONS OUTDOORS
H.B. 2159 prohibits any individual 16 years of age or older, including a corporation, from intentionally releasing, discarding or causing to be released or discarded any nonbiodegradable balloon outdoors. There is a civil penalty for those convicted of $25 per balloon to be paid into the Game Protection Fund.
S.B. 1412 prohibits any person with a conviction of animal cruelty from working for a pet shop, dealer, or commercial dog breeder.
H.B. 1965 directs the State Air Pollution Control Board to implement a low and zero-emissions vehicle program for motor vehicles with a model year of 2025 and later.
H.B. 1801 increases the minimum fine for dumping or disposing of litter or trash on public or private property from $250 to $500.
H.B. 2262 requires motorists to change lanes when passing a bicyclist when the lane of travel is not wide enough for you to pass at least three feet to the left of the bicycle. In addition to those riding bikes, this new law applies to those riding electric personal assistive mobility devices, electric power-assisted bicycles, mopeds, animals and animal-drawn vehicles.
H.B.1930 prohibits Virginia public colleges and universities from asking about an applicant’s criminal record during the application process and prohibits them from denying admission based on criminal history.
H.B.1980 establishes the “Enslaved Ancestors College Access Scholarship and Memorial Program” which requires, starting in the 2022-2023 academic year and with any source of funds other than state funds or tuition or fee increases, Longwood University, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, the Virginia Military Institute, and The College of William and Mary in Virginia to annually (i) identify and memorialize, to the extent possible, all enslaved individuals who labored on former and current institutionally controlled grounds and property and (ii) provide a tangible benefit such as a college scholarship or community-based economic development program for individuals or specific communities with a demonstrated historic connection to slavery.
LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT
H.B. 2137 will require employers to provide paid sick leave to home health workers home healthcare workers who provide services to patients enrolled in Medicaid and work on average at least 20 hours per week or 90 hours per month and also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who utilize their leave.
H.B. 1862 prohibits employers from discharging, disciplining, or discriminating against an employee for the lawful use of cannabis oil pursuant to a valid written certification issued by a practitioner for treatment under Va. Code § 54.1-3408.3, subject to certain exceptions. However, employers may still take adverse employment action against an employee for use or possession of marijuana during work hours.
GAY PANIC DEFENSE
H.B. 2132 bans the “gay panic” defense. This means that another person's actual or perceived sex, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation is not in and of itself, or together with an oral solicitation, a defense to any charge of capital murder, murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, voluntary manslaughter or assault and bodily wounding-related crimes. The same is also not provocation negating or excluding malice as an element of murder.
SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFESTIONS
S.B. 1138 states that any person who is diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection and engages in sexual behavior that poses a substantial risk of transmission to another person with the intent to transmit the infection to that person and transmits such infection to that person is guilty of infected sexual battery which is punishable as a class 1 misdemeanor.
HABITUAL OFFENDER ACT
S.B. 1122 repeals the remaining provisions of the Habitual Offender Act. This will allow more than 13,000 people to obtain driver’s licenses which were previously suspended or revoked solely on the basis that such person was determined to be or adjudicated a habitual offender pursuant to the Habitual Offender Act.
DISCRIMINATION AND MILITARY STATUS
SKILLS GAME BAN
H.B. 2168 prohibits unregulated locations from owning certain gambling devices. Violators could face a $25,000 fine along with the state or locality ceasing the money within the devices.
NO CORROBORATION FOR UNCONTESTED DIVORCES
HB1191 removes the requirement in Va. Code Ann. §20-99(1) for corroboration for an uncontested divorce. Thus, Virginia law will no longer require a corroborating witness for a divorce based on no-fault grounds.
ENDING PRESUMPTIONS AGAINST BAIL
SB 1266 eliminates provisions regarding the rebuttable presumptions against being admitted to bail. Thus, instead of a defendant having to establish why they should not be held in jail, it is now the prosecution’s duty to prove why they should be held in jail.
DEGREES OF ROBBERY
HB 1936 establishes degrees of robbery, based on the seriousness of the offense. Prior to this, Virginia had only one punishment for robbery - five years to life in prison.
CONSIDERATION OF MENTAL CONDITION – CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS
H.B. 2047 permits the admission of evidence relating to a defendant’s mental condition at the time of the alleged defense if such evidence (i) tends to show the defendant did or did not have the specific mental state required for the offense charged and (ii) is otherwise admissible pursuant to the general rules of evidence. Prior to this, Virginia law barred any evidence of a defendant’s mental illness unless he or she plead not guilty by reason of insanity.