Virginians, hold on tight to your balloons.
Starting Thursday, intentionally releasing non-biodegradable balloons into the air will be illegal and carry a civil penalty of $25 per balloon.
That’s due to legislation introduced earlier this year by Democratic Del. Nancy Guy, whose district includes parts of Virginia Beach and Norfolk. That bill and many more from the General Assembly’s regular and special legislative sessions will become law this week.
Here’s a non-comprehensive list of some of those bills, with information on how they could affect you or someone you know.
Under legislation introduced by Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News, curbside voting will be extended to all voters during a state of emergency due to a public health crisis, such as the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, curbside voting was reserved for voters with a permanent or temporary physical disability. The new law requires the curbside voting area to be clearly marked, and instructions on how voters can notify election officials of their intent to vote outside will be provided on signs at the polling place.
Early voting can now be held on Sundays.
Several provisions of House Bill 1888 will reduce barriers to absentee voting. Prepaid postage will be provided for returning absentee ballots, and electoral boards and registrars will be allowed to designate drop-off locations for ballots. Absentee ballots will be processed before election day, which will allow voters to “cure,” or correct, certain errors to make their ballot countable.
Under House Bill 2081, it will be illegal to have a gun within 40 feet of polling places on an election day. The law applies one hour before the polls open, while polls are open and ballots are being counted and one hour after the polls close. The law does not apply to law enforcement, any person who is on their private property within 40 feet of the polling place or licensed security guards at the polling place.
Starting Thursday, having up to one ounce of marijuana will be legal for people 21 and older. Consuming the substance in public or offering it to others in public will remain illegal, with first offenses carrying a $25 fine. Retail sales will remain illegal until 2024, but in the meantime, the law allows people to grow up to four plants per household, as long as they aren’t visible from a public street.
Virginia in March became the 23rd state, and the first state in the South, to abolish the death penalty. Under that legislation, any person facing a death sentence will have their sentence changed Thursday to life in prison without parole.
Public school teachers, principals and superintendents will now be evaluated on their cultural competency, or their ability to understand and interact with different cultures than their own. The law was spearheaded by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton. History and social sciences teachers will also be required to complete training in African American history.
Middle and high school students will be allowed an absence of one day per school year to participate in civic or political engagement activities. Local school boards may allow additional absences for such purposes. School boards may also require that the student provides advance notice or documentation of the absence.
The number of mandatory lock-down drills in elementary and secondary schools is reduced from three to two per school year.
Schools can no longer file a lawsuit against students or their families because the student cannot pay for a school meal or owes the school a meal debt.
State-run health facilities are now required to accept and treat undocumented immigrants. Previously, the commissioner of behavioral health and developmental services was required to determine the nationality of each patient admitted to a state facility and contact immigration officials if a patient was undocumented.
Health insurance providers participating in the state’s health insurance marketplace will be allowed to cover abortion services, though they will not be required to do so.
Any person convicted of misdemeanor assault and battery of a family or household member is banned from buying, owning or carrying a firearm for three years following their conviction. Any person who breaks this law is subject to a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Guns and explosive materials are prohibited from Capitol Square and state government buildings. Law enforcement, military personnel and security guards are excluded from this law. Notices of the law will be posted at public entrances to the Capitol and state-owned buildings.
State police now have five business days to complete background checks before a person can purchase a gun. Previously, the law only required three business days. If the agency did not complete the background check during that time, the sale was allowed without agency approval, unless local laws prohibited the sale. This law expands the time period that state police have to approve the background check.
Gay and transgender “panic defenses” are now illegal in trials for homicide, voluntary manslaughter, assaults and bodily woundings. This means defendants cannot justify their alleged crimes by claiming they felt threatened or provoked by another person’s sexuality or gender identity.
The minimum fine for illegally dumping trash, or littering, will increase from $250 to $500. The maximum fine will be $2,500.
The Virginia Overtime Wage Act will require employers to pay employees 1.5 times their regular wage for all hours worked after 40 hours per week.
Drivers attempting to pass bicyclists must change lanes if there is not enough space to give the bicyclist at least 3 feet of space to their left while the driver’s vehicle passes. This law also applies to drivers trying to pass electric wheelchairs, motorized scooters and skateboards, mopeds and animal-drawn vehicles.
Korie Dean, 757-446-2962, firstname.lastname@example.org