Suzannah Hoover/for WAMU
Several new laws went into effect in D.C. on July 1.
Suzannah Hoover/for WAMU
A slew of major new laws are now in effect across the D.C. region as of Wednesday.
Virginia, in particular, is putting forth sweeping changes to voting rights, gun control, anti-discrimination, and marijuana laws. The changes come less than a year after Democrats in the state's General Assembly took the body back from Republican control.
Meanwhile, the District is enacting a pair of long-awaited policies: a law guaranteeing paid family and medical leave, and the last step of an act raising the minimum wage to $15.
Here's a selection of what's new in the D.C. area.
Before pandemic restrictions drove up absentee voting, Virginia lawmakers passed a bill to allow absentee voting for any reason; previously, voters had to have a specific justification. Also, voters no longer need to present a photo ID to cast a ballot. Election Day becomes a state holiday, replacing Lee-Jackson Day.
It is no longer a criminal violation to possess marijuana in Virginia, and the civil penalty for holding it is capped at $25. Previous law imposed up to $500 in fines and a jail sentence of as long as 30 days; the new ordinance also seals existing criminal records related to misdemeanor possession. Further, the act passed by the Virginia General Assembly called for an impact study on legalizing the sale and personal use of marijuana; the study is to be completed by Nov. 30.
Local governments have the power to "remove, relocate, contextualize, or cover" their monuments, including Confederate statues. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed the act in April, prior to the most recent wave of efforts to tear down statues of Confederate figures. The issue gained momentum following a 2017 far-right rally in Charlottesville, against the removal of a statue depicting Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, that led to the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer.
Virginia now bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, credit, and business. Another new law makes it illegal to practice "conversion therapy" aimed at changing a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.
Virginia Clean Economy Act
Virginia's largest electric utility, Dominion Energy, is required to produce electricity from 100% renewable sources by 2045. The act also sets a timeline for closing older, inefficient power plants, removes some limits on renewable energy, and establishes a carbon trading scheme for emissions from power plants.
Several new gun laws are going into effect in the Commonwealth. Background checks are now required on all firearm sales in the state (despite a pending civil suit), and a 2012 law recently held up by a legal challenge in circuit court is back, banning the purchase of more than one handgun per month and making the penalty a Class 1 misdemeanor. The Extreme Risk Protective Order, also known as a "red flag" law, establishes a way for law enforcement to temporarily separate a person from their guns if they could become a danger to themselves or others. The penalty for recklessly leaving an unsecured or loaded firearm in the presence of a child under the age of 14 is now a Class 1 misdemeanor. However, a proposed ban on semi-automatic rifles did not pass the Legislature. (More on new gun legislation in Virginia here.)
Minimum Wage (Montgomery County)
Montgomery County approved a minimum wage hike from $11 to $15 an hour in November 2017. Elsewhere in the state, business groups are calling to halt minimum wage increases due to COVID-19.
Special Education Ombudsman
The law establishes a Special Education Ombudsman Office in the Office of the Attorney General to provide support to students, parents, and educators regarding special education rights and services.
Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act of 2016
The long-anticipated Paid Family Leave Law, first passed in 2016, provides D.C. private sector workers with up to eight weeks of paid time off to care for a newborn child, six weeks to attend to a sick family member, and two weeks to address personal medical issues. It's the first of its kind in the region and one of only a few across the country.
Fair Shot Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2016
Minimum wage in the District increases by a dollar from $14 an hour to $15, regardless of the size of the employer. This is the last of a four-year phased pay hike putting D.C. on par with cities including New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In addition, tipped employees' minimum wage increases from $4.45 an hour to $5.