Texting While Driving Penalties Stiffer Now; Taxes Up on July 1

The tough new “primary offense” law against texting while driving has drawn the most attention in the Virginia media this week, one of the many laws that went into effect on July 1.

Now, a police officer can pull over a suspect based only on observing what appears to be texting while driving, whereas before, there had to be another reason for stopping a car. There is also now a sharp increase in the fine for a first offense, from $25 to $125 for the first offense, and $250 for subsequent offenses.

But, while texting and email behind the wheel are now being treated as more serious offenses, talking on the phone and using GPS are not.

Among the many other new laws, there is an increase to six percent in the sales and use taxes in Northern Virginia (up from five percent and designed to help fund badly needed $6 billion in transportation improvements), a development sufficiently complicated that the state tax commissioner Craig Burns issued a 21-page single-spaced explanation.

Rather than trying to explain it to her membership, Falls Church Chamber of Commerce executive director Sally Cole simply posted a link to the lengthy document on the Chamber’s website.

Northern Virginians and those in the Hampton Roads area will also have to pay a 5.6 percent wholesale gas tax, compared to 3.5 percent elsewhere in the state.

A $64 annual registration fee is now required on hybrid vehicles, a development that led two area legislators, Del. Adam Ebbin and Del. Scott Surovell, to join members of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network at a rally in Alexandria this week to protest.

In an important setback for the public’s right to know, a new law has gone into effect which says that concealed weapons permits are no longer public information.

A statewide school division went into effect this week to take over failing schools based on a new system that rates all schools with a grade from A to F. Backed by Gov. Bob McDonnell and spearheaded by Hanover County Republican State Sen. Ryan McDougle, the new division will be run by a board of state legislators and appointees by the governor. It will have the power to take over schools that have been denied accreditation or are in the third year of a warning. The board will have the power to turn “failed” schools into charter schools.

If you are planning to run for president, the petitioning requirements in the state have been eased. This was in response to the 2012 Republican presidential primary here, when only two candidates made it onto the ballot. Five other candidates who didn’t filed a fruitless lawsuit and now legislation has gone into effect making qualifying for the ballot easier here.

Now, community associations can establish “reasonable restrictions” concerning the size, place and manner of placement of solar energy collection devises on property designated and intended for individual ownership and use.

A person’s fishing privileges within tidal waters can now be revoked for up to two years if he violates any tidal fishing law.

It is now law that health care plans provided by health maintenance organizations must provide coverage for newborn children.

Special license plates are now authorized for supporters of the Washington Nationals to support the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and for supporters of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance that reads, “Peace Begins at Home.”

Now there is a moratorium on the use of unmanned drone aircraft systems by state and local law enforcement and regulatory entities until July 2015, not applicable to emergency situations or in training exercises nor to certain Virginia National Guard functions or to research and development conducted by institutions of higher education or other research organizations.

Schools are now required to include in their student conduct codes policies and procedures that prohibit bullying and to adopt policies to educate school employees about the need to create a bully-free environment.

Voters must now present a photo identification.

The working papers and correspondence of legislative aides of members of the General Assembly are now not subject to the mandatory disclosure provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

A pawnbroker is now prohibited from pawning or accepting goods or articles if the original serial number affixed to the good or article has been removed, defaced or altered. And much more.