New tether law, other laws going into effect July 1

 Hundreds of bills were passed in the 2020 session of the General Assembly earlier this year, with each law passed and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam set to go into effect July 1.

One of these laws, enacted by HB 1552 and SB 272, sets new standards for “adequate shelter” for animals, and increases the required tether length from three times the animal’s length or 10 feet, whichever is bigger, to four times the animal’s length or 15 feet, whichever is bigger.

Outdoor tethering of an animal will no longer itself constitute adequate shelter during a hurricane or tropical storm warning, or if the animal is not safe from predators or deemed well suited to tolerate its environment.

The new law also specifies that an outdoor tether will not constitute adequate shelter in these conditions: “heat advisory, a severe weather warning, or a period when the temperature is 85 degrees Fahrenheit or higher or 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.”

These rules can be waived if an animal control officer inspects an animal’s individual situation and determines that it is well suited to tolerate its environment.

Other laws set to go into effect on July 1 include a law that removes Lee-Jackson Day, a day commemorating Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, as a state holiday and adds Election Day as an official holiday in Virginia.

A new taxation bill will allow localities in Virginia, starting on January 1, 2021, to impose a five-cent tax on disposable plastic bags provided by retailers. A portion of the tax will be allowed to be kept by the retailer, while the rest will go towards certain government uses, such as environmental clean-up and the provision of reusable plastic bags.

Starting July 1, it will be illegal to smoke in a vehicle with a passenger who is fifteen years or younger, whereas previously it was only illegal with a passenger younger than 9.

Two new laws will change the way voting is done in the Commonwealth. Photo ID requirements will be removed from voting, meaning that voters will no longer be required to show identification with a photo of the person to vote on Election Day. Other forms of ID will also be accepted, including student IDs, employee IDs, paperwork such as utility bills or paychecks that show name and address, or simply a signed statement verifying that the voter is who they are registered to vote as.

Additionally, a new law will eliminate the requirement that an excuse be given to vote with an absentee ballot in an election, meaning that anyone will be able to vote absentee prior to Election Day.

Also starting July 1, simple possession of marijuana will no longer be a criminal offense. The new law allows for the imposition of a $25 civil penalty. Simple marijuana possession will now be charged with the same summons as a traffic summons. Any person found in possession of no more than one ounce of marijuana will have it presumed that it was solely for personal use.