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New Virginia Laws Include a Ban on Texting at the Wheel

The two most talked about new laws that went into effect in Virginia yesterday concern a ban on texting while driving, and allowing political messages on clothing to be worn into election polls.

Unless a bill specifically sets another date, all legislation passed during a Virginia General Assembly session goes into effect on July 1 of that year. A large battery of new laws went into effect this week that citizens should know about.

In addition to the above-mentioned new laws, there are two interesting twists for 2009, among the laws that went into effect this Wednesday.

One is the new law that relates to what are called alternative onsite sewage systems, which have been regulated by localities.

Now, the Virginia Board of Health has primary regulatory authority over them and the professionals that install and maintain these systems must be licensed.

The bill clarifies that localities cannot prevent these systems from being installed once they meet state requirements.

The second twist to the July 1 rule is the bill passed this year to prevent smoking in restaurants, because that will not go into effect until December 1.

The delay is designed to allow restaurant owners time to build separately vented areas for smoking patrons.

In other new developments as of yesterday, if a court has ruled that you own a dangerous dog which has attacked someone, you can be ordered to pay restitution to the victim.

Businesses are now prohibited from using automatic dialing machines for commercial solicitations without your express consent.

Convicted felons, who cannot purchase or own firearms, are now prohibited from purchasing or owning ammunition for a firearm.

It is now the law that local school boards must give elementary school teachers an average of 30 minutes of planning time each day.

Students who have completed an approved course of home study or those exempt from school attendance are now eligible for college financial aid.

Firefighters, other first responders, and law enforcement officials can now automatically vote absentee.

Citizens no longer have to worry about the “style police” as they can now legally wear clothing or stickers with political messages into a polling place.

The first five digits of a social security number found in a public record are now considered confidential and exempt from disclosure.

The exemption from creditors of a homeowner’s real property increases to $10,000. It had been $5,000 for those over 65 and $2,000 for disabled veterans.

Mortgage brokers must now secure a mortgage loan that is in the best interests of the applicant, as opposed to the broker’s personal interest.

Local governments can now provide tax breaks and refund fees as an incentive to owners to submit plans to demolish or renovate derelict buildings.

It is now illegal to send or receive a text messages while driving, unless it is part of a global positioning satellite or emergency communication system.

Last, but not least, a law went into effect that allows the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Taxation to establish a tax amnesty program.

But, to ensure that everyone pays their taxes on time, the Commissioner must set the date of the program sometime within the next year.