New laws that go into effect Thursday, July 1, 2021 in D.C., Maryland and Virginia affect marijuana rules, the minimum wage, voter access, gun possession, child care subsides and a lot more. Here’s a rundown of what changes.
New Laws in Washington, DC
Minimum Wage Increase: People who work in D.C. for minimum wage will get a small raise starting July 1. The minimum wage increases from $15 per hour to $15.20 per hour, regardless of the size of the employer. The base minimum wage for tipped employees will increase by a nickel, from $5 per hour to $5.05 per hour. Go here for more info.
New Laws in Maryland
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COVID-19 Restrictions: All emergency mandates and restrictions related to COVID-19 end in Maryland on July 1. Masks will no longer be required anywhere under state law, including in schools, child care facilities and summer camps. Businesses and workplaces, though, can still set their own policies on face coverings.
Gov Larry Hogan cited rising vaccination rates and falling COVID-19 case and hospitalization numbers as the reason to take a major step toward a return to normal. But this isn’t “mission accomplished,” he said.
"While the end of the state of emergency is an important step in our recovery from COVID-19, it does not mean that this virus and the variants no longer pose any threat. If you have been vaccinated, you are safe. But those who have not gotten vaccinated will continue to be at risk,” he said on June 15.
Mental Health Support: The state’s 211 mental health crisis call center will be expanded starting July 1 in an effort to periodically check in with people by phone call, text or chat. The Thomas Bloom Raskin Act is named after the son of Rep. Jamie Raskin, who died by suicide this year at age 25.
Marylanders will be able to speak directly with mental health counselors. Go here for more info.
Repeal of State Song: Maryland's repeal of the state song “Maryland, My Maryland” is official on July 1. The song set to the tune of “O, Tannenbaum” is a Civil War-era call to arms for the Confederacy against “Northern scum” and refers to President Abraham Lincoln as a despot. Go here to learn more.
Compensation for People Wrongly Imprisoned: A state-mandated system will compensate people who were wrongly convicted and imprisoned, starting July 1. The Walter Lomax Act is named after a man who spent nearly 40 years in prison on a wrongful murder conviction.
“No amount of money will be able to compensate us for what we’ve been through,” Lomax told The Washington Post. “But what it really does, it is an acknowledgment that something was done and it was done unjustly.”
Montgomery County Minimum Wage Increase: The minimum wage in Montgomery County will rise to $15 per hour for employers with 51 or more employees, $14 per hour for employers with 11 to 50 employees and $13.50 per hour for employers with 10 or fewer employees. The state minimum wage is $11.60 to $11.75 per hour, depending on the company size.
“People who work deserve to earn a decent wage. This will help them earn enough to put a roof over their heads, feed their families and not have to choose between putting food on the table and medical visits,” County Executive Marc Elrich said in a statement.
New Laws in Virginia
Courts and Justice
Marijuana Legalization: Virginia became in April the first Southern U.S. state to legalize marijuana. Starting July 1, adults age 21 and older can possess and cultivate small amounts of the drug. Adults may legally possess no more than one ounce (28.3 grams) of cannabis without the intent to distribute. People who possess more than a pound of marijuana can face up to 10 years in prison. Go here for more info on Virginia legalization in 2021.
Cannabis Oil: The bill changes the way cannabis oil is processed and dispensed. Any staff member or employee from a “designated caregiver facility” can assist with the possession, acquisition, delivery, transfer, transportation and administration of cannabis oil to patients of a designated caregiver facility. The bill also allows electronic signatures on written certifications for cannabis oil use.
Death Penalty Abolished: Virginia became the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty this year. After Thursday, the death penalty is outlawed and anyone facing the death penalty will have their sentence converted to life without parole.
Interest on Overdue Court Fines and Costs: People in Virginia who face fines or costs from criminal cases and traffic infractions won’t have to pay interest on those dues until 180 days after a final judgment, or after being released from incarceration (previously it was 40 days). This could save Virginians up to $3.3 million annually, the state estimates. Also, down payments are no longer required on repayment plans with the court clerk.
Firearms in the Capitol: This bill makes carrying any firearms or explosive materials inside the Capitol, Capitol Square and the surrounding area a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Possession following conviction: Any person who has been convicted of assault and battery of a household or family member is prohibited from purchasing, possessing or transporting a firearm. The prohibition ends three years after the date of conviction.
Cocktails To Go: Restaurants can sell mixed drinks for takeout during the next year, according to the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority.
Games of Skill: Games of skill will be prohibited. According to the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, “games of skill” are defined as “an electronic, computerized, or mechanical contrivance, terminal, machine, or other device that requires the insertion of a coin, currency, ticket, token, or similar object to operate, activate, or play a game, the outcome of which is determined by any element of skill of the player.”
Balloon Ban: Intentionally releasing non-biodegradable balloons into the air is prohibited. People who violate this law could face a $25 fine per balloon released.
Public Monuments and Naming
Langston Boulevard in Arlington: U.S. 29 will be named Langston Boulevard, not Lee Highway, as it runs through Arlington starting July 1. Local officials opted to drop the name of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and honor abolitionist John Langston, who was the first Black person to be elected to Congress from Virginia.
Neighboring Fairfax County is considering a new name for the road as part of a countywide review of all street names tied to the Confederacy.
Statue of Sen. Harry Byrd Sr. to Be Removed: A statue of former Virginia governor and U.S. Sen. Harry Byrd Sr. will be removed from the grounds of the state capitol. Byrd was a segregationist who led a campaign to prevent desegregation of Virginia public schools.
“Racism and its symbols, obvious and subtle, have no place in this new Virginia decade,” Del. Jay Jones, the chief sponsor of a bill for the removal of the statue, said in a statement after the vote.
Elections and Voting
Expanded Absentee Voting: House Bill 1888 could make it easier for people to return absentee ballots by requiring drop-off locations and a central absentee voter precinct in each locality. Furthermore, voters who got an absentee ballot can now vote at a polling place on a provisional ballot; the voter is entitled to assistive technology if they have a disability.
It also contains provisions regulating how absentee ballots should be counted and reported, saying the tallying process should begin before polls close and voters can correct errors on their ballot.
Curbside Voting: Voters with injuries, or permanent or temporary disabilities, can vote outside the polling place under HB 1921. During a public health emergency, anyone can vote curbside.
Absentee Ballots: Witness signatures are no longer required for absentee ballots during a declared public health emergency. The law also directs the Department of Elections to evaluate alternatives to witness signatures to verify the integrity of absentee ballots.
Early Voting: House Bill 1968 allows cities and counties to give residents access to early voting on Sundays.
Tenant Eviction Protections: Updates to the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act affect eviction proceedings. One new rule is called pay and stay. After an eviction suit is filed due to nonpayment, a tenant can pay the full balance owed and have the lawsuit dismissed. Tenants should be aware of rules on timing; read more here.
An eviction protection law will take effect to keep certain pandemic-related protections in place through June 2022. Landlords must provide 14-days of nonpayment notice before pursuing evictions (up from five). Also, landlords with more than four units most offer payment plans before terminating a rental agreement with a tenant who is behind on rent. The Richmond-Times Dispatch has more information on what changes for evictions in 2021.
Public Health and Health Care
Birth Control on Medicaid: People insured through Medicaid are eligible to get a 12-month supply of hormonal contraception under Senate Bill 1227.
Funding for Health Departments: A new law says the Virginia Department of Health must recalculate how much money it gives to health departments and review those figures every two years. According to the Virginia Association of Counties, the state contributions hadn’t been updated since the 1990s, although many counties’ needs had changed.
Insurance Coverage for Abortions: Virginia removed a ban on abortion coverage through insurance plans bought on the health insurance exchange.
Schools and Education
Excused Absences for Civic Engagement: Middle and high school students must be allowed one day-long excused absence a year to attend a civic event. School districts can allow for more.
Financial Literacy Education: Middle and high school students must be taught about different employment arrangements and how they work, including gig work and full-time employment.
In-person School Required: Public schools must offer all students in-person instruction for the minimum number of required instructional hours, with some exceptions for COVID-19.
More Subsidies for Child Care: Thanks to an additional $203.6 million in federal stimulus funds, more Virginia families can qualify for child care subsidies. House Bill 2206 raises the annual income limit to $60,000 for a single parent with a preschool-aged child and $89,000 for a family of four with at least one preschool-aged child. The previous income limits were $32,000 for a single parent and $49,000 for a family of four. Families have until July 31 to apply. Visit childcareva.com to read more about all of the requirements.
Disability-Related Parking Accommodations: When someone requests accessible parking, it’s treated as a reasonable accommodation request. That means, in part, entities such as apartment companies must pay to create accessible parking, JD Supra reports.
Drivers Passing Bicyclists: A driver must give a bicycle rider 3 feet of clearance when passing, even if it requires them to change lanes. This law also convenes a working group to consider the implications if cyclists could treat stop signs as yield signs.
Work and Employment
Prohibiting Disability Discrimination by Employers: The Virginia Human Rights Act now protects workers from being discriminated against due to a physical or mental disability. Workplaces must make reasonable accommodations for qualified applicants and cannot deny jobs or promotions due to disability, unless it would create “undue hardship.”
Protections for Domestic Workers: People who are employed in domestic service, including as chefs, companions or maids, are protected by employment laws.