July 1st is here, and, in accordance with the Constitution of Virginia, bills passed during the recent legislative session go into effect unless otherwise noted in the bill’s text. There is no shortage of changes to Virginia law, many of which will have a direct impact on families across the state. Today, I’d like to highlight some of those new laws.
Possibly the most controversial issue debated this past session was the debate over marijuana. The resulting piece of legislation, House Bill 2312, is a bit complex. The new law decriminalizes up to one ounce of marijuana for individuals over the age of 21. Those carrying more than one ounce are liable for a $25 fine and those carrying over one pound can be charged with a felony. Despite decriminalization, the sale of marijuana remains illegal until retail sales begin in 2024. Additionally, the new law seals previous misdemeanor marijuana charges and creates a process by which more serious convictions can be sealed. This bill also contains future provisions that will give preference to individuals previously convicted of certain marijuana offenses when seeking certain marijuana related business licenses and loans.
Another hotly debated item was the repeal of the death penalty. As of today, the death penalty is off the table for sentencing violent criminals. It has instead been replaced with life in prison without parole. For some time now, use of the death penalty has been decreasing, but I believe it should remain on the books for the most heinous, premeditated crimes where the accused shows no remorse–including for individuals convicted of murdering police officers. In addition, the last year has shown us that this Parole Board is willing to violate state law in granting parole. The bill offered no guarantees to ensure that similar instances would not happen in the future.
Starting today, state law requires that schools provide in-person learning for students. That means Virginia children will be back in the classroom when the fall semester begins. The science clearly shows the overwhelming majority of children learn best in a classroom setting, not over a computer. While I fully support getting students back in the classroom and voted yes on this measure, I was disappointed that the bill did not contain an emergency clause that would have ensured students were back in classrooms earlier this year.
This year’s legislative session saw fewer gun-related bills than last year, but they are still worth noting. Democrats passed legislation to codify bans on firearms in state buildings, the Capitol, and Capitol Square. Additionally, firearms are now prohibited within 40 feet of a polling center.
Other new laws include:
- Maximum fine for littering increased from $250 to $500
- Ban on intentionally releasing balloons outdoors; $25 civil fine per balloon
The new laws highlighted above certainly do not constitute a full, comprehensive list–that’s a bit too long for this email. If you are interested in seeing a more detailed list, you can check out the In Due Course publication prepared by the nonpartisan staff attorneys at the Division of Legislative Services. To view that publication, click here.
The General Assembly will return to Richmond in-person on August 2nd for a special legislative session. The primary purposes of this special session will be the electing judges to the Court of Appeals and appropriating approximately $4.3 billion in federal dollars provided to Virginia by the American Rescue Plan. The new Appeals judges come after the General Assembly Democrats passed a court packing scheme that would increase the size of the Court of Appeals from 11 to 17 judges. These six new judges will be selected by the majority all at once rather than through a nonpartisan judicial selection process. How the $4.3 billion in federal funding has largely been predetermined by state Democrats. The General Assembly may decide to appropriate the expected $2 billion state surplus at this special session or it may opt to wait until a later date. If we opt to appropriate the surplus, I will be working to return those funds back to the taxpayers through rebates. I will be sure to update you on the special session as important information unfolds.
As I wrap up this email, I want to again express my gratitude to all those who supported me in my recent gubernatorial campaign. Though it did not turn out the way I had hoped, I am pleased to support Glenn Youngkin, Winsome Sears, and Jason Miyares. This also means that my name will not appear on the ballot this fall and my term in office will come to an end in January. While things may be ramping down, my staff and I stand ready to assist you and your family with state related matters. Please reach out to me and let me know how I can best help.