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New Laws and Legislation

The ideological division and pitched partisan battles that made the 2012 General Assembly session among the most tumultuous in recent memory have passed.

But the combative legislative legacy left by lawmakers is just now starting to be felt.

Hundreds of new laws take effect today that will affect nearly every aspect of life in the commonwealth, from voting to veterans, tax credits to crime and punishment, women’s health to children’s safety.

They include measures requiring women seeking abortions to have ultrasounds, and Virginians seeking to vote to present identification. There is no longer a one-gun-a-month limit on handgun purchases in the commonwealth, and drivers will face even stiffer sanctions for driving under the influence.

Nearly 3,000 bills and resolutions were introduced during the session. There were 849 measures approved — and all but eight of those were signed by Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Here’s a look at some notable new legislation that recently took effect or will soon take effect in Virginia:

Eminent Domain

An amendment approved by voters changed Virginia’s Bill of Rights to say that local governments may seize property only for public uses. It forbids governments from seizing land for economic revitalization if the primary purpose is private gain, job creation or increased tax revenue.

The amendment also expands the definition of a potential loss to a property owner, an interpretation that troubles some local officials. Under the new rules, instead of paying fair market value, a local government must calculate a business’s “lost profits” or the value of “lost access” to the property.

Abortion

Arguably the most controversial legislation passed this year, House Bill 462 requires all women to undergo an ultrasound before receiving an abortion. The original version of the legislation would have required an invasive vaginal ultrasound, but was amended following massive protests to be a noninvasive imaging procedure. The ultrasound is not mandatory if the woman having the abortion has reported being the victim of rape or incest.

Adoption

With the signing of House Bill 445, the law now eliminates the need for parental consent for an adoption in cases in which the birth parent has not visited or contacted the child for six months prior to a petition for adoption.

Child abuse

Inspired by the Penn State sex-abuse scandal, Senate Bill 239 broadens the list of people required to report suspected child abuse to include coaches, among others. It also reduces the time period for mandatory reporting of suspected abuse from 72 hours to 24 hours, and increases fines and criminal penalties for failing to make a report.

Drinking and driving

House Bill 279 and Senate Bill 378 bring a significant change to the state law governing driving under the influence. Now, first-time offenders convicted of driving under the influence must, as a condition of a restricted license, drive vehicles equipped with an ignition interlock device. The device prevents a car from starting if the operator has been drinking. Previously, devices were required only upon conviction of a second or subsequent offense.

Employee retirement

Local government and school board employees will now contribute to their pensions in the Virginia Retirement System. Senate Bill 497 stipulates that they pay 5 percent of their salaries to VRS, but allows localities to phase in the employee contribution over five years, and requires them to provide a salary increase to offset the contribution.

Guns

Virginians may now purchase more than one handgun a month, following the signing of Senate Bill 323, which repealed a 1993 law restricting handgun purchases in the commonwealth.

School safety

Prompted by the allergic reaction death of Chesterfield County elementary school student Amarria Johnson in January, House Bill 1107 and Senate Bill 656 require schools to keep a supply of epinephrine on hand to administer to students in the event of a severe allergic reaction.

Unemployment

Senate Bill 54 keeps the minimum amount of wages needed to qualify for unemployment insurance at $2,700 for the two highest earnings quarters of an employee’s base pay period. The level was scheduled to increase to $3,000 — now it will not go into effect until July 2014.

Veterans

Veterans who are permanently disabled due to a service-related disability can receive a free lifetime hunting and freshwater fishing license under House Bill 719 and Senate Bill 528.

House Bill 938 requires state occupational regulatory boards to accept military experience, education and training as equivalent experience required for certification by the sate, with the exception of requirements by the Board of Medicine and the Board of Dentistry.

Voting

Virginia voters who arrive at the polls without any identification will no longer be able to cast an official ballot by signing a sworn statement. Under Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 9, such a voter will be given a provisional ballot subject to review by the local electoral board. The voter has three days following the election to submit proper identification to the board in order to have the vote counted.

The new law also expands the list of acceptable identification that may be presented at the polls, which includes student identification cards issued by a Virginia college or university, utility bills and concealed handgun permits.

Wrongful death

Senate Bill 674 creates a cause of civil action for the death of a fetus that is caused by a wrongful act, neglect or default of another. Only the natural mother, or, in the case of her disability or death, her guardian, representative or the administrator of her estate, may file the claim. The natural mother herself cannot be sued.

* * * * *

Additionally, a number of significant new laws passed by lawmakers in the 2012 General Assembly session do not take effect until 2013 or beyond.

Among them:

  • A law that provides tax credits to corporations or individuals who provide scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools, scheduled to take effect in 2013.
  • The so-called “Amazon bill,” which forces online, telephone and catalog merchants from out of state to collect sales tax from Virginia customers if the merchants maintain a “bricks and mortar” presence in the state. The law is set to take effect Jan. 1, 2014, or earlier if Congress passes similar legislation.

 

 

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