July: the dog days of summer, the season of cookouts and parades, and, of course, the month when new legislation comes into effect.
Maybe that one didn't make your calendar, but the new laws going into effect today do merit your attention, as some of them will affect you directly.
Speed limits, for instance. Senate Bill 537 (Newman) authorizes posting interstate highways at 70 miles per hour (mph), up from 65 mph. But don't hit the accelerator just yet: traffic studies have to be conducted, and until you see the highway posted at 70 mph, you should continue to abide by the old speed limit.
Of course, job creation is a top priority, and that is reflected in several laws that went into effect today. One bill, HB 943 (Landes), creates a new Small Business Jobs Grant Program and Fund to provide grants to small businesses creating at least five new full-time positions within a twelve month period, while another, SB 472, expands the Major Business Facility Job Tax Credit to partner with more businesses in job creation.
Local freshman Delegate Dickie Bell shepherded through HB 1388, establishing virtual school programs, while HB 139 (Peace) and SB 737 (Newman) allow for the creation of college partnership laboratory schools and help expand Virginia's charter school program, respectively, all part of a parental choice effort designed to ensure that every child receives a high quality education.
Three identical Senate Bills - 283 (Quayle), 311 (Martin), and 417 (Vogel) - provide that Virginia residents shall not be required to obtain individual health insurance against their will, legislation that helps form the basis for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's legal challenge to the "individual mandate" included in the recently enacted federal health care legislation.
Several notable bills related to the right to bear arms go into effect today. Until now, in the absence of a concealed carry permit, firearms in vehicles had to be carried openly or in plain sight. Under SB 408 (Vogel), it is now permissible for a person who may lawfully possess a firearm to secure it in a locked container or compartment in the vehicle, allowing greater safety and helping to guard against theft of weapons left in plain sight.
Another bill, SB 334 (Hanger), allows those with a concealed handgun permit to carry the handgun into restaurants provided that the individual does not consume alcohol. Some have criticized the notion that these individuals will refrain from drinking, but it's worth pointing out that individuals willing to flout the law are already carrying concealed weapons into restaurants. This law merely allows law-abiding citizens to do so as well. And rounding out the guns category, SB 3 (Smith) allows existing concealed handgun permit holders to submit their renewal applications by mail.
Furthermore, SJ 13 (Puller and Stuart) amends the constitution to exempt veterans with a full service-related disability from property taxation, and two other proposed constitutional amendments go before the voters as ballot referendums this November. Senate Bill 547 (Barker) would allow the General Assembly to authorize localities to establish their own financial worth limitations for the purpose of granting property tax relief to retired and disabled homeowners. Another referendum, created by HB 147 (O'Bannon), would increase the size of the Revenue Stabilization Fund - popularly known as the "Rainy Day Fund" - to provide for additional revenue to be set aside in good years to help the Commonwealth weather future economic downturns.
The budget was, of course, the item that loomed largest during the past session, and as we begin a new fiscal year under the revised budget, we will all have to tighten our belts a little. Nevertheless, I am optimistic that Virginia has set a course for recovery, and, as a member of the Governor's Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring, will work to ensure that state government delivers essential services as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.
If you have any suggestions for the reform commission, or legislative proposals for next session, please do not hesitate to email me with your ideas. I look forward to hearing from you! For a more detailed list of new laws taking effect today, look at the list in the news release issued today by the Governor.
With best regards,
Mark D. Obenshain
Virginia State Senator