The new year is here at last and for Virginians throughout the Commonwealth the arrival of 2021 means a number of laws passed by the General Assembly last year have now gone into effect and bring several important changes.
Here is an overview of some new laws that Virginians should know about.
Starting last Friday, it is now illegal to hold a cellphone while driving in Virginia. Before, Virginians behind the wheel were prohibited from reading emails or text messages and manually entering letters or text into a communications device.
The new law says drivers cannot text, dial a phone number, browse social media, check the weather, etc. There are several exemptions, however, including that people can hold their devices while lawfully stopped or parked, among others.
Any person found in violation of the law will be subject to a $125 fine for the first offense and then a $250 fine for the second or subsequent offenses. A person who violates the law while driving in a work zone will also be fined $250.
Continuing with the same theme, undocumented immigrants living in Virginia are able to lawfully drive in 2021 if they apply for and are deemed eligible to receive driver privilege cards under a new law.
The driver privilege card is a valid form of identification in the state, but not considered REAL-ID compliant. Furthermore, the card does not confer voting rights and cannot be used to board flights or enter federal facilities.
In order to be eligible for a card, applicants must be a non-U.S. citizen who is a resident of Virginia, have reported income from Virginia sources or have been claimed as a dependent on a tax return within the last year, and a person’s driving privilege must not be suspended or revoked in Virginia or any other state. Click here for more details.
Thanks to House Bill 66, monthly co-pays for insulin will be capped at $50 starting January 1st. The law specifically prohibits health insurance companies and other carriers from setting an amount above $50 for a 30-day supply of prescription insulin.
This cap comes at a time when prices for insulin have increased by 197 percent from 2002 to 2013, according to previous reporting from The Virginia Star.
One noteworthy change that is resulting from a newly effective law impacts how people in Virginia can acquire concealed carry permits for firearms.
Virginians are no longer able to get concealed carry permits through online training classes. Instead, residents must now complete any weapon training or safety courses taught by a state-certified or National Rifle Association-certified firearms instructor in person.
A much different law that also went into effect last Friday, is designed to protect Virginians from surprise medical billing, otherwise known as balance billing, which happens when patients with health insurance are overcharged for services from medical providers that fall outside of their plan’s network.
The State Corporation Commission said in a recent release: “The new law protects individuals from balance billing for emergency services, as well as non-emergency laboratory and professional services including surgery, anesthesia, pathology, radiology and hospitalist services.”
Another law stops employers in the state from classifying an individual as an independent contractor when that person is in reality an employee. According to the bill, the Department of Taxation will determine whether a person is an independent contractor by using Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidelines, and violators can be issued civil penalties.
Separately, one new law that actually went into effect well before the new year in October, but currently holds importance for Virginians, bars debt collectors and creditors from seizing or garnishing emergency relief or stimulus payments given to individuals by the government.
There are also several laws that will become effective much later into the year and will have large impacts in Virginia.
Beginning March 1st, 2021, no law enforcement officer can lawfully stop a person to execute a search and seizure solely based on the smell of marijuana. The next law is something many workers are looking forward to: raising the minimum wage. Because of Senate Bill 7, Virginia’s minimum wage will increase from $7.25 per hour to $9.50 on May 1st of this year.
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