Krizek: A look at the new state laws taking effect this month

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This column was submitted by Del. Paul Krizek (D-44), and does not necessarily represent the views of Covering The Corridor.

While you are celebrating the 242nd anniversary of the founding of our great nation on this July 4th, remember that Independence Day was so designated by federal law back in 1941. This year’s state laws don’t include such an auspicious designation but there are some noteworthy ones I highlight below, all of which became law on July 1.

Education

One of the first bills I introduced makes several changes to the teacher licensure process. It permits teachers with a valid out of state license, with full credentials and without deficiencies to receive licensure in Virginia without the burden of passing additional requirements. Additionally, it permits a local school board or superintendent to waive certain licensure requirements for any individual who holds a provisional license and is employed by the school.

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Del. Paul Krizek

Another bill of mine allows local school boards to request an additional 180 days to appoint a new superintendent. The old law required school boards to fill a vacancy within six months, which could have lead to unqualified superintendents.

With regard to student discipline, students in preschool through third grade will no longer be suspended for more than three days or expelled except potentially in the cases of drug offenses, firearm offenses, certain criminal acts and physical harm or the credible threat of it. Likewise, for older students, we reduced the length of long-term, school suspensions to 45 days from 364. It is a critical step toward dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.

Some schools habitually deny access to education as a punishment, and yet are surprised when they don’t get the positive results we desire from our educational system. Importantly, in higher education, there is now a law that creates an opt-in system for public colleges and universities to release student contact information. Students must give written permission before their address, email or phone number could be released through a public records request.

Transportation

Please don’t text and drive, and if you do so in a work zone there is a new law that imposes a mandatory $250 fine for using a handheld communications device for reading emails or texting while operating a vehicle in a highway work zone.

There is nothing more important that keeping our children safe. Now children under two years old or that do not meet the stated weight requirement will not be permitted to use forward facing restraint devices.

Justice and Public Safety

Raising the grand larceny threshold has been a major criminal justice reform I have advocated for since my first election. Now the threshold is increased from $200 to $500. A felony is the harshest penalty outside of execution the state can impose on its citizens, and it should not be given lightly. Felony convictions cost people their careers, separates them from loved ones, and costs people their freedom. Virginia’s felony threshold hasn’t been raised since 1980 and was tied with New Jersey for the lowest in the nation.

Another new law creates the Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program to facilitate child placements with relatives and ensure permanent stability for children for whom adoption or being returned home are unfortunately not appropriate long-term solutions.

Health

Marijuana is still illegal but the use of a byproduct of the plant is allowed under a new law that provides that a practitioner may issue a written certification for the use of cannabidiol or THC-A oil for the treatment of any diagnosed condition or disease determined by the practitioner to benefit from such use. Under the old law, a practitioner could only issue a written certification for the treatment of epilepsy.

Energy

As a staunch environmentalist, I have long fought for net metering projects. One bill that passed directs Dominion Energy to conduct a pilot program which allows any public school that produces more energy from a wind or solar powered generation facility than it consumes to credit the excess energy to the account of one or more schools or be paid for the excess energy produced. Furthermore, the new Grid Modernization and Security Act should generate more than 5,000 megawatts of electricity from new renewable energy projects with $870 million invested in energy conservation over the next decade.

Transparency

My bill fixes charity reporting requirements to increase transparency and reduce the ability for charities to make fraudulent reports. This law requires charitable organizations to include a statement indicating the amount of funds expended during the preceding fiscal year to pay for the administrative expenses and the total expenses of the charity and a statement indicating the amount of funds dedicated to providing charitable services as a percent of the total expenses of the charity.

Also, in a huge win for transparency and criminal justice reform, the public will now be able to access Virginia court records. This law will allow for the search and study of data patterns which could quantitatively reveal problems and biases within the criminal justice system. The law directs the courts to create an online searchable database by July 1, 2019.

Alcohol

Dogs can now be allowed in designated areas at wineries so you can enjoy the numerous beautiful wineries in Virginia without feeling guilty about leaving your puppy at home. And, the Virginia Beer Museum in Front Royal can now sell beer for on-site consumption, which really only makes sense.

To learn more about these laws and others passed during the General Assembly please visit: https://lis.virginia.gov. It is my honor to represent and serve the 44th district in the Virginia General Assembly.

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