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Carload of new laws take effect in Virginia on Monday

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Posted: Sunday, June 30, 2013 2:48 pm

RICHMOND — Ready or not, Virginia, new laws that affect the way you drive and how much it costs to do it go into place Monday.

The state’s sweeping new transportation funding law takes effect Monday, changing gasoline and diesel taxes, imposing annual fees on hybrid and electrical cars, and boosting sales taxes on all conventional retail sales. A stiff new ban on texting while driving also goes into effect.

Under other new laws effective Monday, public schools across the state will start receiving letter grades from A to F on how well they teach students, just as schools grade pupils. And concealed-weapon permits will no longer be open for public inspection.

Of the 807 bills that the 2013 General Assembly passed and that became law, 742 of them kick in Monday.

None will be felt more — immediately and on a daily basis — than the 2013 transportation reforms, the first overhaul of Virginia’s failing 27-year-old system for funding its 58,000-mile web of existing highways and for building new ones to alleviate highway gridlock, particularly in Washington’s congested suburbs.

The new law, now the top legislative legacy of lame-duck Gov. Bob McDonnell, will generate up to $1.4 billion per year through several adjustments to taxes and fees. Conservatives in McDonnell’s own Republican Party railed against it as the largest tax increase in Virginia history, and two senior GOP House members lost their seats for supporting it, defeated by primary challengers with tea party backing.

House Bill 2313 passed with overwhelming Democratic support on the final day of the legislative session, creating a bizarre alliance between McDonnell and the 2013 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Terry McAuliffe, while the GOP nominee, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, opposed the measure and nearly derailed it with an 11th-hour legal opinion.

One reason conservatives vilified the compromise was an increase in the state’s share of the sales tax from 4 percent to 4.3 percent, with larger increases due in planning districts serving Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads for enhanced regional transportation projects exclusive to those areas. When local sales taxes are added, the total sales tax in most localities will increase from 5 percent to 5.3 percent, boosting the tax paid on a $10 item from 50 cents to 53 cents.

The new law reformulates the 17.5 cents-per-gallon fuel tax that hasn’t changed since 1986, ditching the volume-based tax for one tied to cost. Starting Monday, a 3.5 percent tax will be paid on gasoline at the wholesale level — a cost that jobbers and dealers will presumably reflect in pump prices. In theory at least, that should reduce the cost to drivers of gasoline-powered cars by about 6 cents per gallon from the existing tax, or a savings of $1.20 on a 20-gallon fill-up from the current Virginia average gasoline price of $3.40 per gallon.

The new tax on diesel, however, is 6 percent of cost, something that chafes big-rig drivers and owners of personal vehicles that use the fuel. At last week’s average per-gallon cost of about $3.70 in Virginia, they stand to pay 4 cents more per gallon, or 80 cents more than the existing tax for a 20-gallon fill-up.

Gasoline taxes could increase to 5.1 percent unless a quarrelsome Congress enacts federal legislation allowing Virginia and other states to collect sales taxes on Internet or catalog sales involving out-of-state retailers by Jan. 1, 2015. The 6 percent diesel tax rate would not change.

The new tax structure is designed to keep pace with fuel price increases. The steady climb in prices, particularly since 2008, hastened the obsolescence of the volume-based gasoline tax. When it went into effect 27 years ago, gasoline was about one-third of today’s prices. As fuel costs increased, people drove less and cars became more fuel-efficient, decreasing the fuel consumption and the taxes collected on it. As revenues ebbed, costs for asphalt, concrete, steel and the labor necessary to build roads soared, forcing Virginia for years to shelve tens of billions of dollars in needed construction projects for lack of money.

There’s more grief for owners of hybrid, alternative fuel or electrical vehicles. An extra $64 will be tacked onto annual vehicle registration fees as a share of paying for better roads and bridges.

Starting Monday, using a smartphone to text, read email or do something similar can get drivers pulled over and ticketed. Texting had been a secondary offense, meaning officers could cite offenders only if they were stopped for a superseding violation such as speeding or running a red light. Now, working a smartphone while driving means a $125 first-offense fine, up from $20, and more for subsequent violations.

As one of several education-related reforms, the old system for rating accreditation status of individual public schools is replaced with the grading system. By law, teacher performance evaluations are now required annually, and training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and use of heart defibrillators becomes mandatory for public school teachers and nearly all high school students. School boards must adopt anti-bullying policies. Public schools also will be required to develop teams to assess security threats and conduct at least two lockdown drills per year, measures enacted with near-unanimous backing after December’s elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

Also taking effect Monday is a two-year moratorium on the use of aerial drones by police and state agencies, and the clandestine use of electronic GPS devices to track a person’s movements becomes a crime.

Also, much public information becomes off-limits. Records of people who hold permits to carry concealed weapons will no longer be public.

Information about minors participating in public parks and recreation programs, emails by Virginia legislators and their staffs, and public disaster response plans are being exempted from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

In addition, an archaic and unenforceable 1950 law against “lewd and lascivious cohabitation” by unmarried couples is repealed. And doctors who test patients for Lyme disease will be compelled to warn patients that some tests can fail to detect the disease.

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New laws

RICHMOND — Some of the new laws that take effect in Virginia on Monday, listed by its legislative bill number, a short summary and the chapter where it will be found in Virginia’s laws for 2013:

 » SB969, The 1950 law against “lewd and lascivious cohabitation” is repealed. (Chapter 621)

 » HB1783 and SB1017, Increases the penalty for possession of contraband cigarettes with intent to distribute. (Chapters 567 and 623)

 » HB1617 and SB1074, Allows religious or political student organizations at Virginia public colleges to expel members who disagree with their missions. (Chapters 696 and 701)

 » HB1981, Outlaws the surreptitious use of electronic tracking devices to track a person’s movement without consent. (Chapter 434)

 » HB1907 and SB1222, Allows police to stop and ticket people for texting while driving and increasing fines for it from $20 to $125 for a first offense. It had been a secondary offense, meaning police could ticket it only if a driver is stopped for a superseding violation such as speeding. The law also provides for enhanced fines for texting drivers who are convicted of reckless driving. (Chapters 790 and 752)

 » HB1524, Exempts records of minors participating in parks and recreation programs from public view under the Freedom of Information Act. (Chapter 554)

 » HB1639, Exempts correspondence by members of the General Assembly and their aides from public view under the Freedom of Information Act. (Chapter 199)

 » HB1855, Exempts Virginia Department of Aviation records from the Freedom of Information Act. (Chapter 574)

 » HB2280, Exempts records of public disaster recovery plans from the Freedom of Information Act. (Chapter 600)

 » SB1335, Removes public access to concealed handgun permit records. (Chapter 659)

 » HB 2012 and SB1331, Imposes a two-year moratorium on drone surveillance aircraft by police or local governments. (Chapters 755 and 796)

 » HB1682 and SB706, Prescribes harsher penalties for those convicted of financially exploiting mentally incapacitated people. (Chapters 419 and 452)

 » HB2346, Requires every public school to have at least two lock-down drills per year. (Chapter 609)

 » HB1871, Requires school boards to define bullying and include policies and procedures for combating it in their student codes of conduct. (Chapter 575)

 » HB1999, Imposes on individual schools an A-through-F grading system to assess its performance and requires the State Board of Education to approve student growth indicators for use in accrediting schools by July 31. (Chapter 672)

 » HB2151 and SB1223, Requires annual performance evaluations for teachers, principals and assistant principals of public schools and extends the probationary period before teachers are eligible for continuing contracts from three to five years. (Chapters 588 and 650)

 » HB2344, Requires local school divisions to establish threat-assessment teams and critical incident response training programs. (Chapter 710)

 » SB893 and HB1468, Adds employees of local governments and local health departments to those allowed to possess and administer epinephrine, used in medical emergencies such as cardiac arrest, asthma and acute allergic reactions. (Chapters 617 and 337)

 » HB2028 and SB986, Requires cardiopulmonary resuscitation training for all public school teachers and nearly all high school students. (Chapters 498 and 530)

 » HB1933, Requires doctors to provide patients they test for the crippling, tick-borne Lyme disease with written information that the tests can sometimes fail to accurately detect the presence of the disease. (Chapter 215)

 » SB1378, Provides for at least one year in prison for people convicted of buying firearms in Virginia for the purpose of reselling the weapon to a buyer the seller knows is prohibited from possessing a gun. (Chapter 797)

 » HB2313, Overhaul’s Virginia’s transportation funding system, changing the fuel tax structure, raising sales taxes, imposing a fee on hybrid vehicles and authorizing regional tax increases for Hampton Roads and northern Virginia to generate more than $1 billion annually for repairing Virginia’s existing roads and bridges and new highway construction. (Chapter 766)

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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