While much of the country is at a relative standstill because of the coronavirus pandemic, Virginia lawmakers have been fast at work to pass hundreds of new laws that went into effect on July 1. These laws reflect the Democratic majority within the House of Delegates and the state Senate this year, providing the party a wide range of opportunities for policy reform within the state.
More than 1,200 bills have cleared the legislature and were signed into law by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Some of these laws took immediate effect on July 1, while other laws will take until 2021 to be put into full effect.
Lawmakers enacted this broad reaching change in response to those who elected them, some lawmakers stating that they were elected to bring progressive change to Virginia. The laws do not target one specific area of law, but rather address a wide spread of topics from wage discussions to gun control. Below are a few of the areas where Virginia has created new laws.
Starting on July 1, Virginia passed a historic number of new gun control laws that will regulate the use and distribution of firearms. The state passed ‘red flag’ laws that banned the possession of firearms by a person subject to a restraining order in addition to requiring background checks on all firearm sales. Handgun purchases will be limited to once a month and a lost or stolen gun will need to be reported within 48 hours. The state will also require in-person training for anyone who wants to obtain a concealed carry permit.
Virginia is joining the list of other states that is capping the maximum price of insulin, joining the group with a maximum charge of $50 a month. The state will also create a state health insurance exchange instead of relying on the federal marketplace for citizens to buy health insurance.
As of July 1, anyone found with less than one ounce of marijuana will face a $25 fine with no jail time or criminal conviction. With the decriminalization of the substance, employers and schools will be banned from asking about simple possession convictions and criminal records of those with simple possession convictions will be sealed. Before this legislation, the law called for a maximum fine of $500 with a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail for a first-time offense.
Virginia will now increase the minimum age at which a juvenile can be tried as an adult for violent crimes from 14 to 16 years old.
“Additionally, this piece of legislation will allow anyone who is sentenced to life in prison for a single felony offense, or multiple felony offenses committed as a juvenile, to be eligible for parole so long as they have served at least 20 years of their sentence.” explains attorney Patrick Woolley of Price benowitz LLP.
Additional Topics of Change
Virginia is doing a large overhaul of its legislative system, touching on areas from abortion rights, election day holidays, to gambling and animal tethering, and even to allowing local communities to remove confederate monuments if they deem fit.
As the state begins to change and adapt to new laws, there may be room for those convicted of past crimes to seek more lenient sentences or receive new trials altogether. With much of the system changing under the more than 1,000 new pieces of legislation, many attorneys are urging those with past criminal charges or potential cases to reach out to legal counsel to understand how the changing legal landscape could affect their specific situations.
While opponents to some of these changes may have to wait to see the ramifications of the new legislation, many are happy to see needed changes occur in Virginia. As communities and states across the country begin to reform or update their legal codes, some may look to Virginia for ideas on how to improve.