New Virginia Laws

By Linda Cicoira — Hundreds of newly enacted or updated laws took effect in Virginia this week. Among the biggest was the expansion of Medicaid to about 400,000 low-income adults.

Virginia joined 32 other states and the District of Columbia in expanding Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act after years of debate. It will not actually start until 2019. The expansion is an enormous win for Gov. Ralph Northam, a Shore native and pediatric neurologist, who ran his campaign on expanding access to healthcare. 

Another top law change was raising the felony level for larceny from $200 to $500. Accomack Commonwealth’s Attorney Spencer Morgan said Tuesday he is not expecting the law to have a significant change on his caseload. “Our office will continue to be involved in cases for values under $500 at the request of the victim or law enforcement.”

Morgan was also “very pleased” with the bill regarding the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund and another which “strengthens the ability of the court and the commonwealth to enforce payment of restitution.”

“Senate Bill 457 gives further protection to victims and witnesses, which is always helpful,” Morgan said. According to the Virginia Legislative Information System, a victim or witness in a criminal prosecution of a violent felony can request his or her phone number or email address be withheld “except to the extent that such disclosure is required by law, necessary for law enforcement purposes or permitted by the court.” A judge may also prohibit testimony regarding any victim’s or witness’ telephone number or email address if the information is not material to the case.

Morgan said he is also thankful for the work of local legislators regarding opioid fatality review legislation, which was brought up by Scott Wade (a state police special agent and head of the Eastern Shore Drug Task Force) and Ann Wessells, head of probation for Accomack and Northampton counties. 

“Raising the grand larceny threshold from $200 to $500 will have little effect on my office,” said Northampton Commonwealth’s Attorney Beverly Leatherbury. “Recognizing how low that threshold was and recognizing the devastating consequences of a felony conviction, it would not be at all unusual in our office to reduce a first-time theft offense in the $200 to $500 range to a misdemeanor if restitution efforts had been made by the defendant. A third offense petit larceny of any amount remains a felony, as I believe it should.” 

“Of greater significance to victims of theft … are the changes made to the monitoring of restitution payments,” said Leatherbury. “The probation agency ordered to monitor restitution payments must notify the court and the commonwealth’s attorney of the amount of unsatisfied restitution either 60 days before the defendant is released from supervision or at the time probation requests the defendant be released from supervision,” she continued. The court would then review compliance and “continue to conduct hearings for up to 10 years following the first review hearing, and adds additional remedies for the court if the defendant continues to fail to comply with the restitution order.”  

“Other legislation I find needed and significant includes the increasing of the criminal penalty for female genital mutilation from a Class 1 misdemeanor to a Class 2 felony,” she said. “I have never seen such a case and hope to never see one, but certainly that sort of offense is most heinous and should not be punished like driving 20+ above the speed limit or simple trespass.”

The criminal penalty for female genital mutilation of a minor did increase from a Class 1 misdemeanor to a Class 2 felony.

There was also a bill to undertake research through the establishment of an educational and state-run industrial hemp program. In another, school boards are now able to increase recess time for their students through a new provision. Slot-like machines were legalized at horse tracks and other places. Feminine hygiene products are available to inmates at no cost. Hunting raccoons on Sunday, which previously had to stop at  2 a.m., is now permitted all day.

There was also good news for teachers as the state board of education is required to provide licenses “for any spouse of an active duty member of the Armed Forces…who has obtained a valid out-of-state license, with full credentials and without deficiencies, that is in force at the time the application for a Virginia license is received.”

Another interesting law will allow localities to retain officers of election as independent contractors.

Another law clarified that screening tests performed on infants born in the state shall include ones for Pompe disease, mucopolysaccharidosis type 1 (MPS-1), and other lysosomal storage disorders for which a screening test approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration exists.

A bill increased the maximum hookup and towing fee for passenger vehicles from $135 to $150. A law prohibiting the use of unmanned aircraft by knowingly and intentionally entering the property of another and coming within 50 feet of a dwelling house to coerce, intimidate, or harass another person, took effect July 1.

Custodians of a scholastic record are now prohibited from releasing the address, phone number, or email address of a student in response to a Freedom of Information Act request without first obtaining the written consent of either the student or the student’s parent or legal guardian.

Animal testing: A new law requires an alternative test method, when available, or the fewest animals possible for a manufacturer or contract testing facility. The provision does not apply for medical research or for testing related to developing devices, drugs, or biomedical products, or to certain other products regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Violators are subject to a civil penalty of up to $5,000 plus court costs and attorney fees.

Dogs are allowed within designated areas inside or on the premises of a winery, distillery, or brewery, except where food is manufactured.

The Alcohol Beverage Control board’s general license application fee went from $65 to $195 and the application fee for mixed-beverage special event licenses increased from $15 to $45. The law also increased the state tax on wine shippers’ licenses, beer shippers’ licenses, and wine and beer shippers’ licenses from $95 to $230. Additional revenues will be used to support Virginia ABC Bureau of Law Enforcement operations.

A new law allows full-time students, who attend classes at an accredited public or private institution of higher education, to request deferred jury service.

Another regulation aimed at protecting juvenile inmates from more violent juvenile offenders would place the latter in adult facilities. The law also allows those juveniles to be separated from adult offenders.

Misdemeanor violations of assault and battery and trespass (with exceptions) were added to the list of offenses for which an adult convict must have a sample of their blood, saliva, or tissue taken for DNA analysis.

A bill became law that prohibits school employees from “lunch shaming” students who can’t afford to buy food, or who have school debt, by making them do chores or wear a wristband or hand stamp. The maximum long-term suspension was reduced from 364 calendar days to 45 school days unless the offense involved weapons, drugs, or serious bodily injury or aggravating circumstances.

The installation and maintenance of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in rental property are now mandated. The bill requires “a landlord to install a smoke alarm but does not permit a locality to require new or additional wiring or the upgrading of smoke alarms under certain conditions and to certify annually that smoke alarms have been installed and maintained in good working order in a residential dwelling unit pursuant to the Statewide Fire Prevention Code and the Uniform Statewide Building Code. The landlord is also required to install a carbon monoxide alarm upon request by a tenant.”

In addition, the red salamander or Pseudotriton ruber, was designated as the state salamander. The Virginia Critically Missing Adult Alert Program was created for local, regional, or statewide notification of an adult whose whereabouts are unknown.

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