Virginia’s newest laws are now on the books

By Katie Callahan (File photo)

A slew of new laws went into effect earlier this month, including a major overhaul of the state’s mental health system.

Following the suicide of state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds’ (D-25) son, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle made reforming the commonwealth’s mental health system a priority.

First, they extended the time an individual can be held by an emergency health custody order from six to 12 hours, giving authorities more opportunities to find an empty bed in a nearby psychiatric facility.

If eight hours pass without success, the patient will be checked into a hospital until a bed is found.

The bill also creates a real-time registry of available psychiatric beds and lets mental health professionals hold on to patients for up to 72 hours. Previously, a patient could be held involuntarily under a temporary detention order for a maximum of 48 hours.

HUNTING

State legislators tweaked Virginia’s hunting laws to let landowners — and anyone they grant permission to hunt on their property — target waterfowl, wild birds and other wild animals on Sundays.

The law prohibits hunting bears and deer with firearms or with the aid of a hound. Hunting also is banned within 200 yards of a house of worship.

In a victory for local animal rights activists, fox penning — or training dogs to hunt already captured foxes — will be phased out by 2054.

Firing a gun into the air and causing injury transitioned from a misdemeanor to a class six felony. If no one is injured, the shooter still can get a misdemeanor and up to a year in jail. Known as “Brendons Law,” this comes as a victory for the family of Brendon Mackey, 7, who was killed by celebratory gunfire last year in Chesterfield County.

EDUCATION

Lawmakers lessened the burden of standardized tests on public school students and teachers by cutting the number of annual exams from 22 to 17.

Of concern to education officials in Alexandria, the Opportunity Educational Institution — created by former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) to intervene in failing local schools — has hit a roadblock. A Norfolk judge ruled the recently-formed state agency unconstitutional earlier this year.

Judge Charles Poston found that the institution usurped the authority of the state and local school boards and districts.

That means Jefferson-Houston Elementary School, once in Richmond’s crosshairs, will remain in the hands of Alexandria’s education officials for the time being.

Lastly, textbooks throughout the state will henceforth refer to the Sea of Japan as the East Sea.

TRANSPORTATION

Hybrid vehicle owners owe one less tax bill this year and those who paid the levy targeted at the energy-efficient automobiles in the past can ask Richmond for a refund.

Legislators repealed the $64 annual license tax on the increasingly popular vehicles. The levy drew criticism from the moment it went into effect, with opponents arguing the added financial hit punished motorists for trying to be environmentally friendly.

Motorists also must give cyclists more room on the road, leaving at least three feet of space between themselves and a bicycle when passing.

Moped owners must secure titles and registration for their vehicles, which cost $10 and $20.25 respectively, and must affix a license plate to the back of their vehicles.

E-Z Pass users will get a break starting this year after lawmakers waived the monthly “account maintenance” fee.

ODDS AND ENDS

• Virginia voters must have photo identification to vote. Anything from a passport to a student ID from a Virginia college or university will do (For a full list go to www.sbe.virginia.gov). Passed in 2013, this law went into effect earlier this month.

• Electronic cigarettes will be treated the same as other tobacco products and barred from being sold to minors.

• If forced to relocate because of their significant other, a military spouse can file for and receive unemployment benefits.

• Following allegations of ethical lapses on the part of Gov. McDonnell, gifts from lobbyists or government contractors to elected officials will be capped at $250 a year. Gifts to an individual’s immediate family members must be disclosed, but this does not include “intangible gifts” like meals or trips.

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