Elections, cell phones, firearms and the public peace: New Virginia laws cover broad landscape

Mike Still • Jun 29, 2020 at 6:15 PM

While marijuana decriminalization has been one of the more visible aspects of Wednesday’s upcoming changes in Virginia’s laws, firearms, criminal and election laws also change on July 1.

On the election front, the first Tuesday in November now becomes a state holiday for voters, replacing Lee Jackson Day. Virginia’s election poll closing times add an hour, to 8 p.m.

Drivers wanting to check their cell phones or plug-in charger cables should be careful. Virginia Code 18.2-818.2 now prohibits any person from holding a handheld personal communications device while driving a motor vehicle.

Driver’s licenses cannot be suspended for nonpayment of fines and costs, and the Department of Motor Vehicles will return or reinstate licenses suspended prior to July 1, 2019, only for nonpayment. Persons getting their licenses back do not have to pay a fee.

Drivers who smoke already cannot smoke in their vehicles when children under 8 are aboard. That changes Wednesday, when drivers cannot smoke when minors under age 15 are in the vehicle. Violation is still a secondary offense, requiring being stopped for another offense first.

Gun laws

Firearms laws — a subject of armed and unarmed demonstrations during this year’s General Assembly session — also see several changes on Wednesday.

— Background checks on buyers at all gun shows in Virginia are mandatory before completion of sales.

— Guns are not permitted at public, private, or religious preschools and licensed child day centers that are not operated at the residence of the provider or of any of the children.

— Leaving loaded, unsecured firearms to access by children under 14 becomes a Class 1 misdemeanor.

— Persons applying for concealed weapons permits must complete competence training in person and not by online, electronic or video courses.

— Paramilitary activity is unlawful if a person brandishes a firearm or any air-operated or gas-operated weapon or any object similar in appearance while assembled with one or more persons for the purpose of and with the intent to intimidate any person or group of persons.

— Persons other than licensed firearms dealers may purchase no more than one handgun in a 30-day period. Violation of the law is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

— Localities can declare ordinance zones where firearms, ammunition or components are prohibited.

— Trigger activators such as bump stocks cannot be manufactured, possessed, transported, sold or offered for sale in Virginia. Violation is a Class 6 felony.

— School boards may not allow anyone other than those specifically authorized by law to possess firearms on school property.

— Persons subject to protective orders must surrender firearms to local law enforcement or transfer them to persons authorized to possess firearms within 24 hours of the order being issued.

— Lost or stolen firearms must be reported to law enforcement within 48 hours of being discovered missing.


In the area of criminal law, parole has been restored under some circumstances. Persons sentenced to prison between 1995 and 2000, after the General Assembly abolished parole, will become eligible for parole consideration starting Wednesday. The state Supreme Court ruled in favor of parole consideration for those sentenced prior to the June 9, 2000, decision.

Persons who were sentenced to life in prison for a single offense or multiple offenses or who are imprisoned for more than 20 years for single or multiple crimes committed while a juvenile are now eligible for parole if they have served at least 20 years.

Starting Wednesday, adults sentenced for juvenile offenses can earn good conduct credit of one day for each day served including pre-conviction and sentencing time served.

The age at which juveniles can be tried as adults increases from 14 to 16 years.


Some changes also become effective Wednesday regarding school students and school resource officers. School principals will no longer have to report some misdemeanor offenses to law enforcement, and the state Department of Criminal Justice will have to collect and report annually — in coordination with the state Departments of Education and Juvenile Justice — data on incidents involving students and school resource officers.

Students involved in disorderly conduct in schools will no longer be charged with disorderly conduct in a public place if that conduct is on school property, on a school bus or at a school-sponsored or conducted activity.

The public peace

When it comes to the public peace, Virginians will see some changes. Fornication and profane swearing in public will no longer be crimes. If you are under 18, you cannot use a tanning bed or lamp with ultraviolet light — spray tanning only.

Anyone wanting to let out their inner Joe Exotic from “Tiger King” will have to settle for dressing or getting a haircut like him. Under Virginia Code Section 3.2-6594, it becomes a Class 3 misdemeanor for a “keeper” to let members of the public have direct contact with any “dangerous captive animals” — bears, cougars, jaguars, leopards, lions, nonhuman primates, tigers or their hybrids.

Animal law

— Courts will be able to ban persons convicted of violating state hunting, fishing or trapping laws from hunting, fishing or trapping from one to five years.

— On Wednesday it becomes a Class 1 misdemeanor for any person to maliciously place a dead animal within any church or on church property.

— Harassing a nest, eggs, den, or young birds or animals becomes a Class 3 misdemeanor.

— Transportation for sale outside of Virginia of bait fish — river herring, alewife, threadfin shad, or gizzard shad, or the carcass or any part thereof —collected from the inland waters for use as bait fish becomes a Class 1 misdemeanor.

— Pet owners allowing their dog or cat to roam after being told by health, law enforcement or animal control officials it could have rabies face a Class 1 misdemeanor.

— Pet owners will also be required to provide adequate outdoor shelter for pets, including protection from predators, protection from hot or cold temperatures and a tether at least 15 feet long or four times as long as the animal. Violators face a Class 2 misdemeanor charge.

— Virginia also will prohibit the sale or purchase of hunts with a guarantee of killing a bear, deer or wild turkey, although landowners still can lease their land for hunting.

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