RICHMOND, Va. — July 1 in Virginia marks the day that a hoard of new laws passed in the General Assembly’s 2019 session go into effect. While there are hundreds of new laws in the books today, here are 10 you need to know about heading into the new month.
- Hand-held cell phone use in work zones:Drivers shouldn’t ever be texting and driving, especially in construction zones – and now there’s a law to help prevent it. Starting today, those caught using a hand-held cell phone in a work zone will face a mandatory $250 fee.
- Tommie’s Law: Named for Tommie, the pit bull who died after being tied to a fence and set on fire in a Richmond park, ‘Tommie’s Law’ increases the penalty for all animal cruelty to a Class 6 felony, a charge carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison or a $2,500 fine.
- Suspended drivers licenses: Beginning today, Virginia courts will no longer suspend drivers licenses for unpaid court fines and costs. The state will also reinstate driving licenses for more than 627,000 Virginians.
- Tobacco purchasing age rises: Sorry teen smokers and vapers, the age requirement for purchasing tobacco in Virginia have gone up from 18 to 21 – unless you’re active military duty personnel. Those 18 and older with a valid military ID will still be able to purchase tobacco products.
- Surrogacy law: Single people and same-sex couples will have an easier time adopting children using surrogacy. The law previously limited surrogacy agreements to couples consisting of a married man and woman. Now, the law’s language has changed, replacing the words “husband” and “wife” with the term “spouse.”
- Trooper Walter: When State Police officer Michael T. Walter was shot and killed while on duty in Richmond, his murderer received just 36 years in prison. A new law spearheaded by Walter’s widow Jaime has changed the sentencing guidelines for capital murder. Now, anyone convicted of capital murder faces a mandatory life sentence or capital punishment.
- Kings Dominion Law: Since the 1980s, Virginia state law has required school districts to begin classes after labor day unless they apply for an exception. While the law was originally instated to help Virginia’s tourism industry (hence the amusement park reference,) the 2019 General Assembly changed the legislation, allowing VA schools to open two -weeks earlier as long as they permit a four-day Labor Day weekend.
- Child car seats: Starting today, parents in Virginia will be required to use rear-facing car seats for their children until they reach the age of two, or meet the minimum weight standards for a forward facing seat.
- Heaven’s Law: Named for 11-year-old Heaven Watkins, a Norfolk girl brutally beaten to death in May of 2018, Heaven’s Law requires caseworkers to look back at least 5 years when investigating child abuse investigations to see if a child has been abused or neglected in another state.
- Eviction Relief: A package of new laws will work to reduce eviction rates across the state by giving tenants more time to pay rent and fees ahead of an eviction notice, and limiting the number of legal actions a landlord may file.