RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginians will wake up in July with fewer coronavirus restrictions and new laws to learn.
Newly empowered Democrats in the Virginia General Assembly began the 2020 session with an ambitious legislative agenda, including a push to pass several gun-control bills in the wake of the Virginia Beach mass shooting, social equity legislation, criminal justice reform measures and finding ways to make voting easier.
Among many others, bills legalizing casino gambling, decriminalizing marijuana, and new taxes on cigarettes, gas and skill games will also go into effect at the start of July.
Here’s a breakdown of a few of the bills that will become law as of July 1:
Gun control measures pass
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed multiple gun control measures in April that were passed during the General Assembly session. Bills requiring background checks on all firearm sales, establishing a red flag law in Virginia and reinstating the state’s one-handgun-a-month policy were among those that were approved. Here’s a list of bills signed by the governor in April:
- Senate Bill 70 and House Bill 2 require background checks on all firearm sales in Virginia, which will prevent guns from ending up in dangerous hands.
- Senate Bill 240 and House Bill 674 establish an Extreme Risk Protective Order, which creates a legal mechanism for law enforcement to temporarily separate a person from their firearms when they represent a danger to themselves or others. Virginia is now among 19 other states and the District of Columbia in enacting this type of law.
- Senate Bill 69 and House Bill 812 reinstate Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month rule to help curtail stockpiling of firearms and trafficking.
- House Bill 9 requires gun owners to report their lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement within 48 hours or face a civil penalty.
- House Bill 1083 prevents children from accessing firearms by increasing the penalty for recklessly leaving firearms in their presence.
Two other bills, one that allows localities to regulate firearms in their public spaces and another that prevents anyone under protective orders from possessing a gun, were passed after amendments were proposed by the governor.
One gun safety measure backed by Northam that did not pass was one that would have banned assault-style weapons.
Expanding access to voting
Lawmakers passed several bills aimed at making voting easier for Virginians. Days before this year’s session began, Governor Northam proposed making Election Day a state holiday and expanding early voting. Months later, both bills were signed by the governor.
Additional measures passed and signed by Northam include one that eliminates the requirement to have a photo ID to cast a ballot and another that extends the hours at polling locations.
For a deeper look at new laws that make it easier to vote in Virginia, check out 8News’ previous coverage: Gov. Northam signs bills that expand access to voting
Casino gambling legalized for five cities
Both chambers of the General Assembly passed legislation that legalizes casino gambling for five economically distressed localities — Richmond, Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth. The cities can decide through a public referendum later in the year if they want to build a casino.
The bill establishes a regulatory framework for the industry by establishing a seven member board with five-year terms. The governor will appoint members subject to confirmation by the General Assembly.
Marijuana will be decriminalized
The General Assembly approved a plan to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana in Virginia, a legislative priority pushed by Democrats and backed by the governor ahead of the session.
Under the new law, anyone caught with no more than an ounce would instead pay a $25 civil penalty and those who have had their cases dismissed in court could have their charges expunged. A first-time offender could serve up to 30 days in jail and be fined $500 for possessing less than half an ounce under the current law.
Legislation was also passed to have a group study and release a report on the impact of legalizing pot in Virginia.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia raised concerns over the state’s decriminalization effort, arguing it would fail to take away “a racist policing tool,” that input from impacted communities was not taken into consideration and that it punishes “youth more harshly than adults.” A 2018 report from the ACLU states that the use of marijuana is roughly equal among black people and white people, however black Americans are more than three times as likely to be arrested for possession of the drug.
Giving localities authority to remove Confederate monuments
Virginia lawmakers passed legislation in early February that gives local governments the authority to remove or relocate Confederate monuments in their public spaces, ending a state law prohibiting cities and counties from doing so.
In January, the majority of the Richmond City Council agreed to pass a resolution asking the Virginia General Assembly to enact measures to allow Richmond to decide what to do with Confederate monuments owned by the city.
Since then, the topic of Confederate statues has been a central focus amid civil unrest and protests in Virginia over racism and police brutality. Several have been toppled across the state and the Richmond City Council has already expressed support to remove them from the city.
Click here for a full look at the new laws in Virginia on July 1.
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