The vast majority of the new laws passed by the General Assembly during the 2021 session will take effect on July 1, the default designated date for new laws to take effect unless specified otherwise by the General Assembly.
A slew of new provisions take effect tomorrow, including new legislation legalizing the simple possession and home cultivation of cannabis, expanding alcohol sales off-premises and at outdoor events, facilitating the expansion of solar energy across Virginia, making major changes to Virginia’s court systems, and implementing a number of new pro-labor protections that will have a profound impact on businesses.
A summary of major legislation is included below. For a full list of every new major law taking effect on July 1, you can review the legislative summary provided by the General Assembly’s Division of Legislative Services here.
ALCOHOL & CANNABIS
On July 1, Virginia will join fifteen other states that have legalized simple possession and home cultivation of cannabis. Adults over the age of 21 may grow up to four cannabis plants in their residence and possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Public consumption and distribution of marijuana is still prohibited, and possession of between one ounce and one pound of marijuana or equivalent amount of product is subject to a $25 civil penalty. The law also imposes limits on the dissemination of an individual’s criminal history related to marijuana to employers and institutions of higher education.
The CCA creates the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority and several boards to oversee and implement regulations concerning the commercial cultivation, manufacturing, wholesale, and retail of marijuana in Virginia. The Cannabis Control Authority goes live July 1, but numerous provisions of the law are subject to reenactment by the 2022 General Assembly.
Gentry Locke Consulting has provided several summaries, articles, and presentations on cannabis. Please visit www.gentrylocke.consulting/cannabis to learn more.
This law allows pharmaceutical permit processors to dispense other cannabis products – namely, “usable cannabis” products – in addition to cannabis oil to medical marijuana license holders.
A result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this law allows mixed beverage restaurant licensees and farm winery licensees to sell and deliver mixed beverages or pre-mixed wine to customers for consumption off-site. The bill established a workgroup to report on the sale and delivery of mixed beverages before the law is set to expire July 1, 2022.
In renaming the “local special events” license to “designated outdoor refreshment area” license, localities are able to increase the frequency and duration of large outdoor events where alcohol is consumed. Previously, localities were limited to holding no more than 16 events per year under the local special events license.
ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
This law clarifies that localities may accept cash payments for solar or energy storage projects through a conditional use permit provided that such payments offset the impacts of a particular project. The law provides that the approval of a siting agreement automatically deems the project in substantial accord with the locality’s comprehensive plan; that a developer and a locality may provide funding for important local capital projects, including the deployment of broadband; and that a siting agreement supersedes provisions of a zoning ordinance when an agreement is reached between the developer and the locality.
This law adds energy storage systems to the definition of certified pollution control equipment, exempting energy storage systems with a capacity between 5 and 150 megawatts from state and local taxation. This law also equalizes the taxation treatment for stand-alone energy storage with the taxation treatment for solar and solar/hybrid projects.
Erosion and Sediment Control Opt-Out to DEQ (SB1258)
This legislation allows rural counties to opt-out of erosion and sediment control oversight for renewable energy projects and instead transfers the authority to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. This same opt-out procedure exists in the Code of Virginia for stormwater management.
Permit by Rule for Stand-Alone Energy Storage Projects (HB2148)
This legislation adds energy storage facilities and projects with storage facility components to the definition of a “small renewable energy project.” Such facilities are eligible for special permitting, review, and inspection requirements. The bill directs DEQ to promulgate initial regulations to implement the provisions of the bill by January 1, 2022.
Local Green Banks (HB1919)
This law authorizes localities to establish, by ordinance, public green banks in order to promote investment in and secure financing for clean energy technologies.
Extension of Rent Relief Programs (HB1889)
This law extends the sunset date of certain provisions enacted during the 2020 Special Session related to the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act from July 1, 2021 to July 1, 2022. Some of the extended provisions include increasing the amount of time that a landlord must wait after serving written notice on a tenant for nonpayment of rent before the landlord can seek termination from 5 to 14 days; and requiring a landlord to offer the tenant a payment plan before terminating a rental agreement due to nonpayment of rent.
Property Owners’ Association Act & Condominium Act: Electronic Meetings (HB1816/SB1183)
This law updates the Property Owners’ Association Act and Condominium Act to allow all meetings, including voting procedures, of property owners’ associations, boards of directors, unit owners’ associations, executive boards, and committees to be held entirely or partially by electronic means. Such bodies must adopt guidelines that ensure both secure access and the opportunity for applicable parties to participate in and vote during the meetings. The bill adds teleconference, videoconference, Internet exchange, or other electronic methods to the definition of “electronic means.”
Virginia is now the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty, commuting the sentences of two Virginia inmates currently on death row.
Civil Jurisdictional Limits for General District Courts (SB1108)
For civil actions involving personal injury and wrongful death, the maximum civil jurisdictional limit increased from $25,000 to $50,000.
Expansion of the Court of Appeals of Virginia (SB1261)
Effective July 1, this law increases the number of judges on the Virginia Court of Appeals from 11 to 17. The increase was necessary due to the expanded jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals, including providing for appeal by right in every civil and criminal case, eliminating the requirement for an appeal bond in criminal appeals, and expediting review of appeals of permanent protective orders, etc., all of which will go into effect January 1, 2022.
Notice of Parole (HB2167)
This law provides that the Department of Corrections shall set the release date for an inmate granted discretionary parole or conditional release no sooner than 30 business days from the date that the Department receives notification of the Parole Board’s decision to grant parole or release. The Department of Corrections may still release a terminally ill inmate granted conditional release within that 30 day period. The Parole Board must notify the Commonwealth’s attorney in the jurisdiction where the inmate was sentenced by electronic means at least 21 business days prior to the inmate’s release.
The law requires the Parole Board to issue a monthly report disclosing the name of each prisoner considered for parole, the offense, the jurisdiction in which such offense was committed, the time the prisoner has served, whether the prisoner was granted or denied parole, and the basis for the grant or denial of parole. The Board must implement the provisions regarding monthly reports no later than December 15, 2021.
The law establishes a process for the automatic sealing of police and court records for certain convictions, deferred dispositions, acquittals, and dismissals. In cases where records are not automatically sealed, a person may petition to have that record sealed.
Limitations on Enforcement of Judgments (HB2099)
This law significantly reduces the amount of time within which an execution or action may be taken on a judgment from 20 to 10 years. While most of the provisions in the law have a delayed effective date of January 1, 2022, effective July 1, the limitation of the enforcement of a judgment may be extended up to two times by a recordation of a certificate prior to the expiration period. The bill provides that each recordation shall extend the limitations period for 10 years. Under current law, such limitation period may be extended on motion of the judgment creditor or his assignee.
LABOR & EMPLOYMENT
The Virginia Overtime Wage Act (HB2063)
Virginia employers must now provide overtime compensation for all non-exempt employees – either hourly or salaried – who worked in excess of 40 hours in a week. Any employer who fails to provide at least 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate in overtime compensation is subject to the same criminal and civil penalties as for nonpayment of wages.
Virginia Human Rights Act: Discrimination on the Basis of Disability (HB1848)
This law adds discrimination on the basis of disability as an unlawful discriminatory practice under the Virginia Human Rights Act. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations to the known physical and mental impairments for an employee and shall not take any adverse action against an employee who requests or uses such accommodation.
Protections for Employees Using Medical Cannabis Oil (HB1862)
Employers are forbidden from discharging, disciplining, or discriminating against an employee for the lawful use of cannabis oil pursuant to a written certification issued by a practitioner for treating symptoms of the employee’s diagnosed condition or disease. However, employers may still take action against an employee for work impairment caused by the use of cannabis oil and establish policies that prohibit possession during work hours, and other restrictions.
In collaboration with the Virginia Community College System, this program provides “last dollar” financial assistance to certain low-income and middle-income Virginia students who are enrolled in an educational program at an associate degree-granting public institution of higher education that will lead to an occupation in a high-demand field.
Workers’ Compensation for COVID-19 (HB1985)
This law establishes that health care providers who died or were disabled by COVID-19 between March 12, 2020 and December 31, 2021 are entitled to compensation under the Workers’ Compensation Act. A similar law (HB2207/SB1375) extends the same entitlement to firefighters, emergency medical personnel, law enforcement officers, and correctional and regional jail officers who were disabled or died due to COVID-19 between July 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021.
The Consumer Data Protection Act establishes a framework for the controlling and processing of personal data. Businesses that process the personal data of at least 100,000 consumers or derive over 50% of gross revenue from the sale of consumer data and also process the data of at least 25,000 consumers are now subject to privacy protection standards. Virginians now have the right to access, correct, delete, or obtain a copy of their personal data and opt out of data collection schemes. The Office of the Attorney General oversees the implementation of and enforces any violations of this law.
Banning of Electronic Skill Games (SB1127)
This law modifies the list of organizations that may conduct charitable gaming and requires such organizations to obtain a permit from the Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. As of July 1, the operation of electronic skill games at non-permitted locations is prohibited, outlawing a billion-dollar mainstay of many convenience stores and truck stops.
VOTING & ELECTIONS
June Primaries (SB1148)
Virginians will now cast their vote in statewide primaries on the third Tuesday of June, instead of the second.
Absentee Voting Procedures (HB1888)
This law reforms Virginia’s current absentee voting processes and procedures, including allowing first-time voters to vote absentee, establishing drop-off locations and central voting precincts, verifying correct completion of the voter affirmation statement, and providing opportunity for an absentee voter to make corrections to the statement in certain circumstances. Officers of Election must begin counting absentee ballots before the polls close on election day but cannot announce totals before the polls close.