A look at Virginia’s new laws taking effect on July 1

Published: Jun. 28, 2021 at 10:59 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 1, 2021 at 2:35 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Marijuana legalization, altered liquor laws and expanded voter access hit Virginia on July 1 as the commonwealth brought many new laws into effect.

“There’s a whole list of things the legislature has done. We’ve had the privilege of signing these good pieces of legislation but I think it makes Virginia a better state. It’s moved us in a positive direction,” said Governor Ralph Northam, (D) Virginia.

The Virginia General Assembly was busy passing marijuana previsions, new bicycling laws and penalties for balloon releases during the 2021 session. Here’s a look at some of the new laws taking effect on Thursday.

Virginia preps for marijuana legalization

On July 1, adults 21 and older in Virginia will legally be allowed to possess up to an ounce of marijuana.

The law allows people to consume marijuana privately, but it cannot be consumed in public areas like sidewalks and parks.

There are several things that are still not permitted:

  • Distribution or selling of marijuana
  • Consuming, purchasing or possessing marijuana for anyone under the age of 21
  • Consuming marijuana while driving or being a passenger in a motor vehicle

It will be legal to grow up to four plants per household, they just can’t be visible from a public street. The plants will have to be tagged with a note stating it is for personal use, along with a name, driver’s license or state ID number.

Have questions? Check out Virginia’s new marijuana legalization website.

Read the full bill here.

Cocktails to go are here to stay | Changes in Virginia ABC laws

The Virginia General Assembly passed seven Virginia ABC-related laws that will go into effect starting on July 1.

“It was a lot of thought that went into a lot of our legislation some of which came out of, was a result of where the health crisis, the pandemic, the economic crisis and where we were,” said State Delegate Eileen Filler-Corner, (D) Speaker of the House of Delegates.

Restaurants can continue to serve cocktails to go, and alcoholic beverages can still be delivered.

Good news for patio weather: Guests can consume alcohol outside of a restaurant as long as they are in a designated outdoor area.

Virginia ABC stores will also stop selling low-alcohol beverages that are 7.5% or less alcohol by volume unless they were made by a Virginia distiller. Beverages that are above 7.5% will continue to be sold in retail stores.

Read more here.

Bicycle laws coming full circle

The Virginia General Assembly passed two new laws aimed at improving bicycle safety across the commonwealth.

Motorists will be required to change lanes, when safe to do so, to pass a bicyclist, even if that means crossing over a double yellow line.

Bicyclists will also be allowed to ride two abreast in a lane.

Currently, bicyclists are allowed to ride side by side in a single lane but must move into a single line when a car is trying to pass.

Read more here.

Expanded voting access

Gov. Ralph Northam has signed legislation that is expected to expand voting access in the commonwealth by opening polling places on Sundays, allowing those with disabilities to vote outside and establishing drop-off locations.

“In Virginia, we’re proud that we want to make it easier to vote. That’s the foundation of our democracy in contrast to other states that are making it more difficult,” said Governor Northam.

One bill allows localities to provide in-person absentee voting on Sundays. Another bill states any voter with a permanent or temporary physical disability has the right to vote outside of the polling place. During a state of emergency regarding public health, such as the coronavirus pandemic, any voter is entitled to the same right.

In addition, House Bill 1888 requires the processing of absentee ballots prior to election day, allowing voters to make corrections under certain circumstances. The bill also outlines certain procedures for election officials.

Worker’s comp for healthcare workers | Disability protections

Virginia will now allow health care workers and first responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits if they are disabled or die due to COVID-19.

The bill also said health care workers who refuse or fail to get vaccinated for COVID-19 will not be eligible for workers’ compensation.

Starting in July, discrimination on the basis of disability will also be unlawful under the Virginia Human Rights Act.

No guns in state buildings

After July 1, any person convicted of assaulting a family or household member is prohibited from purchasing or possessing a gun for three years. Violators would be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. Read the full text here.

Virginians will now be banned from carrying a gun into state buildings, the State Capitol or Capitol grounds. This includes firearms or any explosive material. Read the bill here.

Cultural competence tests, pay raises for teachers

Teachers in Virginia will now be evaluated on their level of cultural competency, based on standards set by the Virginia Board of Education. Virginia legislators passed a bill that mandates African American history training for many teachers and sets new inclusivity standards for educators. Read the full bill here.

In light of COVID-19, school districts will also be required to offer some form of in-person learning, seven days a week. Teachers were also included in a pay raise for state employees.

College students: Financial aid, application questions

Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation extending state-funded financial aid programs to in-state students regardless of citizenship or immigration status. The bills extend the assistance to students at community colleges or a public institution for higher education. Read the bill here.

Another bill prevents state colleges, with the exception of the Virginia Military Institute, from revoking an acceptance after inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history. The bill, found here, has a delayed effective date of Jan. 1.

Keeping the commonwealth clean: Littering fines, balloon releases

The maximum fine for littering or dumping trash will increase from $250 to $500. Read about the new law here.

The release of balloons outdoors will also be banned, with punishments starting at a civil penalty of $25 per balloon. The current law prohibits the release of 50 balloons or more within an hour. Read the full bill here.

Death penalty is officially abolished

Virginia made history in March as the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty. At that time, two people remained on Virginia’s death row. With Northam’s signature, their sentences were commuted to life in prison.

The law, which you can read in full here, officially goes into effect July 1.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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