New Virginia laws in effect July 1

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Cars get the spotlight in new state laws that went into effect Monday.

By Landmark News Service

Judging by the coming impact of new laws the General Assembly approved this winter, 2013 could be characterized as the year of the car in Virginia.
Policymakers further toughened penalties for prohibited behaviors behind the wheel — such as texting and drunken driving — and voted to make consumers pay more to buy vehicles as part of a financing plan to raise new revenue for state roads. They also voted to place new conditions on the use of mopeds.
The slew of new laws that took effect July 1 results from the 800-plus pieces of legislation approved this year. Some highlights:

• School grading: Establishes an A-to-F grading scale for schools based on accreditation standards, student growth performance and other accountability measures. The law mandates the development of system measurements this year so school grades can be assigned by next October.
• Teacher evaluation: Revamps how teachers are reviewed, setting a probationary period that can range from three to five years for new teachers, and allows a hearing officer to oversee the modified grievance process.
• School emergency medical training: Allows schools to require that bus drivers, teachers, other school personnel and future high school students get trained in life-saving techniques such as CPR and the use of external defibrillators.

• Health insurance reform: Modifies state health insurance laws to comply with requirements of the federal health care act that will take effect Jan. 1, and prohibits abortion coverage through any plan sold through a health benefits exchange.
• Secret ballot: Affirms the right to a secret ballot for employees voting on formation of an organized labor union.

• Voter identification: Removes Social Security cards, utility bills and paychecks as acceptable forms of ID that voters can show at the poll, and requires voters to show valid photo ID at the polls. Neither bill is effective until 2014, contingent upon funding to implement those changes.
• Presidential primary elections: Reduces the number of voter signatures necessary for presidential candidates to qualify for primary ballots from 10,000 to 5,000 statewide, and from 400 to 200 in each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts.

• Texting while driving: Police can now stop drivers for typing or reading emails and text messages while driving; violators face fines of $125 for first offenses and $250 for subsequent citations.
• Drunken driving: Repeat violators of certain drunken driving laws — such as manslaughter or maiming a person in a drunken driving incident, including boating — now face a mandatory sentence of at least one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
• Transportation funding: A reformulated gasoline tax, higher sales tax, an annual $64 hybrid registration fee and an increased car titling tax are among the mix of statewide and regional revenue mechanisms to raise money for road and rail projects.
The retail sales tax for most purchases increased from 4.3 percent to 5.3 percent statewide. There is another 0.7 percent increase (to 6 percent) in the localities that make up the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads regions. The tax on purchases of qualifying food for home consumption remains unchanged.
• Moped registration: Low-speed vehicles such as mopeds now must be titled and registered with the state, and operators must carry a government-issued photo ID and wear safety goggles or similar protection if the vehicle lacks a windshield.

Social Issues
• Cohabitation: Repeals a long-standing criminal penalty that applied to unmarried couples living together.
• Student clubs: Allows college student organizations, such as religious or political groups, to restrict membership to like-minded individuals and prohibits colleges from discriminating against such groups.
• Welfare benefit restrictions: Prohibits the purchase of tobacco products, lottery tickets or sexually explicit material with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cash or spending those benefits in adult establishments or tattoo and piercing parlors.

Public Safety
• Drone ban: Places a two-year moratorium on the use of unmanned aircraft by state and local law enforcement, with some exceptions, and requires state agencies to develop protocols for their use.
• Armed school security officers: Permits security guards licensed by the state to carry firearms at private and religious schools if they are hired by the institution to protect students and faculty, and prohibits the state from preventing a child day care center from doing so.
• Concealed handgun permit: Prohibits circuit court clerks from publicly sharing information about individual permit holders.

• Lyme disease: Requires physicians to inform patients seeking Lyme disease testing that negative test results may not be accurate. The law is in effect until July 1, 2018.

• Virginia War Memorial: Specifies that military service members on active duty who died in a combat zone are eligible for recognition on the Virginia War Memorial Shrine of Memory.
• Veteran unemployment: Tasks the state Department of Veterans Services with developing a program to reduce veteran unemployment.