New gun laws, other democratic priorities to go into effect

Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 3:56 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Marijuana will be decriminalized, local governments will have the ability to take down Confederate monuments, and Virginians will pay more in taxes for gasoline and cigarettes starting Wednesday.

July 1 is the start date for most of the new laws passed earlier this year by the General Assembly.

Democrats, in charge for the first time in a generation, refashioned Virginia as the region’s progressive leader on racial, social and economic issues and passing the South’s strictest gun laws, broadest LGBTQ protections, highest minimum wage and some of its loosest abortion restrictions.

“Last November, voters called for decisive, impactful action to make their communities safe and more prosperous. We have delivered on that mandate,” House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn said in a statement.

Here's a look at some notable new changes:

GUN LAWS: Virginia has been epicenter of the nation’s gun debate after Democrats ran on an aggressive new gun control platform. Tens of thousands of gun owners from around the country rallied against new gun restrictions at the state Capitol in January while lawmakers ultimately approved 7 out of 8 of Gov. Ralph Northam’s gun-control package.

New laws include universal background checks on gun purchases, a red flag bill to allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from people deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others, and limited handgun purchases to one a month. Moderate Democrats balked at passing a ban on assault weapons, which was one of Northam's top priorities.

MARIJUANA DECRIMINALIZATION: Simple possession is now a civil penalty and can be punished by a fine of no more than $25.

STATUE REMOVAL: Local governments now have the authority to remove Confederate monuments.

ANTI-DISCRIMINATION: A new law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, public or private employment, public spaces and credit transactions.

ABORTION: Lawmakers undid restrictions on abortion access that were enacted when the legislature was under GOP control, including a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion and a requirement that women seeking an abortion undergo an ultrasound and counseling.

GAMBLING: Virginia legalized casinos in five cities, and online sports betting statewide.

FOOD STAMPS: People with certain drug felonies are no longer ineligible for food stamps.

ELECTION DAY: Virginia will no longer honor Confederate generals with Lee-Jackson Day, but will instead move the state holiday to Election Day. Virginia is adopting no-excuse absentee voting.

RECKLESS DRIVING: Under current law anyone caught going 81 miles per hour could face a reckless driving charge. That’s now been moved to 86 miles per hour and faster.

CLEAN ECONOMY ACT: An overhaul of energy policy paves the way for a significant expansion of offshore wind and other renewables as it mandates a transition to zero carbon emissions by 2045 for Virginia’s largest electric utility. Regulators have said the legislation will have significant impacts on monthly electric bills, which supporters of the measure dispute.

GAS AND CIGARETTE TAXES: Lawmakers approved a sweeping transportation funding overhaul that will increase gas taxes. In some parts of the state the tax will rise from about 16 cents a gallon to 34 cents a gallon. The state’s taxes on cigarettes will also double to 60 cents a pack.

CHANGING, BUT NOT RIGHT AWAY: Lawmakers increased minimum wages and made it easier for labor unions to operate, but those changes aren’t set to take effect Wednesday. The state is incrementally increasing its minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour by 2026. The first increase to $9.50 an hour will take place May 1, 2021. A new law allowing localities to recognize public sector unions won’t go into effect until next May, either.

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