Happy 4th of July! I hope you are enjoying a relaxing holiday weekend with friends and family.
Several new laws that passed earlier this year took effect on July 1. They are detailed below. Next month, the General Assembly will convene for a Special Session to appoint judges and allocate federal American Rescue Plan Act relief funding. For the first time since April 2020, we will be conducting session in person in Richmond. You will be able to contact our Capitol office during Special Session at 804-698-1052.
New Laws Took Effect July 1
Listed below is just a small sample of the many new laws that took effect on July 1. You can find additional summaries from VPAP or the “In Due Course” publication by the Division of Legislative Services.
- Localities are now required to establish drop-off locations for absentee ballots.
- Localities now have the option to offer in-person absentee voting on Sundays.
Criminal Justice Reform:
- The death penalty has been abolished in Virginia as of July 1, 2021.
- Possession of up to one ounce of cannabis by those 21 or older is now legal.
- Police departments are no longer allowed to use facial recognition technology.
- The G3 program (Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back) went into effect on July 1. This program provides tuition-free community college to low- and middle-income students who pursue jobs in certain high-demand fields.
- The Enslaved Ancestors College Access Scholarship and Memorial Program went into effect on July 1. This program requires some Virginia colleges and universities to memorialize enslaved individuals who labored on the institutions’ grounds and set up scholarships or economic development programs for those with a historical connection to slavery.
- Teachers are now required to undergo cultural competency training.
- More immigrants in Virginia can now access health care through Medicaid as the “40 Quarter Rule” ends.
- Virginia’s Medicaid program is now offering a comprehensive dental benefit for adults, granting an estimated 750,000 Virginians new access to dental health services.
- Medicaid/FAMIS MOMS prenatal health care coverage has been extended to financially eligible undocumented immigrants. Virginia has also applied to extend FAMIS MOMS postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months.
- Doula services are now reimbursable through Medicaid, extending this type of care and advocacy to lower-income pregnant people who can most benefit from it.
- Health plans offered under the commonwealth’s health benefits exchange must now provide coverage for abortion care.
- Guns are now banned at polling places.
- Anyone who has been convicted of assaulting a family member is now prohibited from possessing a firearm for three years.
- Discrimination on the basis of disability is now unlawful.
- The Virginia Overtime Wage Act is now in effect, improving overtime payment practices for certain workers.
- Drivers must now change lanes when passing a cyclist if the lane is not wide enough to allow three feet or more between the car and bicycle.
- Balloon releases are now prohibited, and the litter fine has increased from $250 to $500.
Community Policing Act
Last month, statewide data on policing and demographics became available to the public under my 2020 Community Policing Act.
The Virginia State Police invited me, Delegate Lashrecse Aird (the bill’s chief co-patron), and Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, among others, to a presentation of the public dashboard and the initial data reported there.
Data collection is an important step in meaningful reform. Evidence of bias-based policing in national and some state-based data is clear. However, police officers in Virginia were not previously required to report the race, ethnicity, or gender of drivers during traffic stops, meaning that type of data did not exist to be studied or reported out in the Commonwealth. The Community Policing Act is meant to remedy that lack of data while deterring bias-based policing and fostering trust between our police and communities through added transparency. The initial data seemed to reinforce what had already been suspected; minority Virginians are disproportionately over-policed. A full analysis from the Department of Criminal Justice Services will be released later this month.
Expanded Child Tax Credit
The American Rescue Plan includes substantial changes to the existing Child Tax Credit. The credit has increased from $2,000 to $3,000 per child over six years old and from $2,000 to $3,600 per child under six years old. The age limit has also gone up; the tax credit is now available to families with children up to 17 years old. Working families will receive the full credit if they earn up to $150,000 annually for a couple or $112,500 for a single head of household.
Perhaps the most significant change is that the tax credit will be dispersed in advance. Starting July 15, eligible families will start receiving the Child Tax Credit in monthly payments. If you filed your 2020 taxes and qualify for the credit, you will receive the advance payments automatically. If you qualify for the credit but didn’t file a 2020 tax return, you can sign up to receive advance payments here.
Legislator of the Year
Last week I was honored to be named Legislator of the Year by the Treasurers’ Association of Virginia. Patricia Richie-Folks, City Treasurer for the City of Manassas, presented the award.
Creating a Family Friendly Economy
Early in June, I was proud to receive the Virginia Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy’s Seal of Approval. Policies like paid family and medical leave and paid sick days are key to the long-term health, stability, and prosperity of our commonwealth. I’m grateful to the campaign for recognizing my commitment to Virginia’s working families.
Did you know? 2-1-1 Virginia is a free service for all Virginians that can help connect you to local resources. The confidential hotline gathers facts on health and human services and connects Virginians to essential services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These services include basic human needs like food banks and rental assistance, physical and mental health resources, workforce initiatives, and support for children, youth, seniors, those with disabilities, and families in need.
Anyone can dial 2-1-1 anytime or visit the 2-1-1 Virginia website. Now, you can contact 2-1-1 Virginia by text, too! The texting option went live last month to expand the hotline’s accessibility. Get connected to local resources by texting CONNECT to 247211.
Everyone in Virginia age 12 and older is now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Pre-registration is no longer required. Find a vaccine location at vaccinate.virginia.gov, or call 877-829-4682.
Wondering how the vaccine actually works? The mRNA technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines gives your cells a blueprint for a specific protein in the coronavirus called the spike protein. Your cells use the blueprint to build a copy of the spike protein – not the coronavirus. The protein itself doesn’t cause COVID-19 or any other illness. But your body learns to recognize the protein and creates antibodies that remember what it looks like. The blueprint and proteins go away, but the antibodies stay and will recognize the coronavirus. So, when you are exposed to the real coronavirus, the cells in your body will recognize it and know how to fight it – protecting you from getting sick.
The viral vector technology used in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine works a little differently. The researchers that created the J&J vaccine took a common virus that is unable to replicate or cause illness and added the gene that creates the coronavirus’s spike protein to it. It’s like a harmless virus dressed up as the coronavirus. When you receive that vaccine, it stimulates an immune response that teaches your body to recognize the spike protein and, ultimately, how to fight off the coronavirus, protecting you from severe illness.
Vaccine information specific to Prince William County is available at vdh.virginia.gov/prince-william.
Please reach out to my office if we can be of assistance or answer any questions you may have. You can contact us at email@example.com or 703-785-2224.