From cocktails to broadband, here are some of the new laws that take effect this week in Virginia

This article appeared here first in Cardinal News.

As Virginia ushers in the second half of the year, a wave of new laws takes effect July 1, impacting various aspects of life for residents across the state. 

The Democratic-controlled legislature passed hundreds of bipartisan proposals during the 2024 legislative session — from modestly enhanced gun-control measures to codifying marriage equality, expanded access to health care, green energy and broadband, a renewed effort to address the welfare and safety of the state’s youngest residents, and other aspects of daily life. 

While he vetoed a record 201 bills, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed 845 of them into law. 

Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said in an email that the governor is “proud to have preserved public safety in the commonwealth by banning pill presses, simplified career pathways for aspiring law enforcement officers and teachers, transformed the behavioral health system through additional measures in his Right Help, Right Now plan, reduced burdensome regulations on cake pops and baked goods, and provided schools with better curriculum flexibility.”

Here’s an overview of some of the legislative changes:

Animal welfare

A new law seeks to make it harder for anyone convicted of animal cruelty to hurt animals again. SB 11, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, prohibits people with misdemeanor cruelty convictions from owning or possessing animals for up to five years, and people with felony convictions are prohibited for life. The bill would apply to cruelty against all animals, not just companion animals like cats and dogs.

Legislation from Del. Ellen Campbell, R-Rockbridge County, and Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, creates a state animal cruelty conviction list and local animal cruelty registries, all of which will be publicly accessible online.

Veterinarians are no longer allowed to declaw cats in Virginia, unless there are certain therapeutic reasons for doing so. Exceptions covered under the new law include the need to address an infection, disease or injury or to protect the owner’s health. 

Another new law allows anyone to claim roadkill at any time of the year. Previously, only the driver who killed the animal was permitted to claim the carcass, and only if they hit the animal during hunting season.

Broadband

The so-called “make ready” bill is designed to solve disputes and speed work getting broadband cable across utility poles and into rural residents’ homes. Along with that legislation came a budget amendment to move $50 million over two years from the general fund to the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative, which administers the projects. Both moves were designed to finish work before a December 2026 deadline, after which the federal government will take back whatever unspent portion exists of its $750 million in pandemic spending for Virginia internet service.

Civil rights protections

While same-sex marriage has been legal nationwide since the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, it was never codified in Virginia law. But HB 174 formally forbids marriage licenses from being denied based on the sex, gender or race of the applicants. Religious organizations and clergy members may still refuse to perform a marriage ceremony.

HB18 aims to safeguard Virginians from unlawful discrimination, hate crimes and antisemitism, codifying a recommendation by the Commission to Combat Antisemitism that the commonwealth revise its laws to better protect Jewish citizens from hate crimes, along with Muslims, Sikhs and other ethnic-religious groups.

new law sponsored by Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, prevents the issuance of search warrants for electronic or digital menstrual health data. Similar legislation passed the Senate in a bipartisan vote last year but was opposed by the Youngkin administration and died in the then-Republican-controlled House of Delegates.

SB546, sponsored by Sen. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico County, makes several changes to the state code on emergency custody orders, temporary detention orders and evaluation procedures relating to mental health patients. Most notably, it ensures access for loved ones of people in a mental health crisis, allowing them to be present for support and decision-making assistance. 

The legislation is named “Irvo’s Law” after Irvo Otieno, who died in custody in Henrico County last year after a mental health crisis. His mother, Caroline Ouko, said she was barred from seeing Otieno during his original emergency custody order — which she alleged resulted in his death at Central State Hospital. Several deputies are facing criminal charges, and Otieno’s family received an $8.5 million civil settlement. 

Education

HB 48 and SB 46 prohibit any public higher education institution from giving preferential admissions treatment on the basis of a student’s legacy status or relationships to any donors.

Elections

Beginning July 1, candidates running for public office will be banned from the general election ballot if they had run in that year’s primary but dropped out before the primary vote. SB 109 was sponsored by Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County. Del. Joe McNamara, R-Roanoke County, Suetterlein’s colleague in the House, carried the companion measure

Energy

SB454 and HB1491 allow Appalachian Power and Dominion, the state’s two largest utilities, to begin charging customers for the costs of developing small modular nuclear reactors. Youngkin had announced two years ago that he planned to deploy a commercial SMR in Southwest Virginia within 10 years, as part of his “all-of-the-above” energy plan.

Expanded protections of minors

HB 994 establishes the legal age for marriage at 18 and gets rid of the ability for a minor who’s declared emancipated to marry. The new law closes a legal loophole that previously allowed people 16 or older to marry if a court declared them legal adults. In the Senate, the only lawmaker who voted against the measure was Sen. John McGuire, R-Goochland County, now the Republican nominee in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District. 

Youngkin signed several measures this year aimed at thwarting child exploitation while creating increased penalties for predators and rapid response for missing children. SB 731 amends the definition of child pornography, production and publication, while SB 201 creates the Virginia Critical Operation for a Disappeared Child Initiative (CODI) Alert Program.

HB 100, sponsored by Del. Holly Seibold, D-Fairfax, increases civil penalties for employers who violate child labor laws from $10,000 to $25,000 for each violation that results in the employment of a child who is seriously injured or dies in the course of employment.  

Guns

“Lucia’s Law” — named after Henrico County eighth-grade student Lucia Bremer, who in 2021 was shot nine times by a 14-year-old boy using his father’s gun — is one of very few bipartisan gun-control measures that the legislature passed this year. SB 44 and its companion proposal HB 36 make it a felony penalty of child neglect for adults who allow a child access to a firearm after being notified that the child poses a threat of violence. 

SB210 and HB22 prohibit the manufacture, importation and sale of automatic sears — a so-called Glock switch that can be attached to a firearm allowing it to automatically fire and allowing for a rapid rate of fire — on the statewide level.

Taxes

new law sponsored by Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, will count “heated tobacco products” like e-cigarettes as cigarettes, ensuring that the commonwealth will continue to benefit from the millions of dollars that have been pouring into the state after a nationwide settlement with tobacco companies in the 1990s. 

Various

power lines against a blue sky
Power lines in Lynchburg. Photo by Matt Busse.

The Emergency Utilities Protection Act prohibits utilities from shutting off service to customers during periods of extreme weather, during a public health state of emergency or on Fridays, weekends, state holidays or the day before a state holiday. The legislation, sponsored by Del. Irene Shin, D-Fairfax County, and Sen. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, also prevents shutoffs before an account is 60 days past due for customers of utilities regulated by the State Corporation Commission, or 45 days past due for municipal utility customers.

In an effort to crack down on vaping, HB 790 adds nicotine vapor products to the list of tobacco products that can’t be sold to people under 21. The new law imposes stiff new penalties for the sales, including a $10,000 fine and revocation of a distributor’s license or retailer’s tax registration for a fourth offense.

SB 26, sponsored by Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, legalizes drinking alcohol at campgrounds on private property. And HB 688 permanently allows the sale of cocktails to-go in the commonwealth. The beverages were temporarily allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic but were set to expire as of July 1.

HB 156 increases from 70 to 73 the age at which a person is exempt from service on a jury upon request.

Under HB 342, employees of state agencies are now required to have naloxone or other opioid antagonists on hand to administer to victims of overdoses. 

HB 1071 expands the authority of any locality to reduce the speed limit to less than 25 mph on highways within its boundaries that are located in a business district or residential area.

HB 682, sponsored by Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington County, amends the city of Bristol’s charter to create five voting precincts rather than four.This bill is identical to SB 618, carried by Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Washington County. 

Pulaski will no longer hold municipal elections in May. Under HB 1127, introduced by Del. Jed Arnold, R-Smyth County, beginning this fall elections will be held in November. The new law also clarifies that the town council has seven members, including the mayor, and provides that the mayor may vote in the council. The bill also changes the time of the election of the vice mayor from even-numbered years to odd-numbered years at the first meeting of the council. The measure is identical to SB 475, sponsored by Sen. Travis Hackworth. 

The so-called “cake pop bill,” sponsored by Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, allows people who make food products at home to sell their wares at temporary events — like farmers markets — that operate for no more than 14 consecutive days. It also clarifies that they may advertise their products online as long as the sales are made in person.

SB 469 makes it a felony to possess a pill press or encapsulating machine. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham County, also makes it a felony to allow a minor or a mentally or physically incapacitated person to be present during the manufacture of any substance containing a detectable amount of fentanyl.

Staff writer Tad Dickens contributed information to this story.

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