Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fresh Eggs

In Virginia, most new laws take effect on July 1. Some highlights of this year's handiwork of the General Assembly:
  • Organized animal fights and cockfights are now felonies. Also officials have greater ability to search after dark without seeking a new warrant. When substances or equipment are used to help the animal fight it will now be a felony. These laws were prompted by the much publicized Michael Vick case.
  • An array of new laws and procedures are designed to patch gaps in the mental health system were prompted by the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech. The intent of the laws is to make identifying, monitoring, and treating persons with mental illness more streamline, humane, and to facilitate the sharing of mental health records. Hopefully the state has provided sufficient additional funding for staffing our mental health agencies and the courts that will deal with these extensive changes.
These new laws illustrate how events can push legislators to act. For years, animal rights activists had urged the General Assembly to get tough with dogfighting and cockfighting. And advocates for the mentally ill had pointed out the weaknesses and flaws in state laws, procedures, and funding. We can all hope for proactive leadership from our elected officials (like the governor is attempting with transportation) but the reality is that politicians are more frequently reactive. They wait to see where the public is going and then jump in front of the parade! It is true that little is achieved until a consensus forms - high profile events can be that catalyst.
Other new laws include:
  • A couple new laws should help shorten lines at DMV offices - drivers licenses will be for eight years rather than five (the fee remains at $4/year) and online vehicle registration renewals will get a $1 discount while going in person to your local DMV office will cost $5 more!
  • Sheriffs' deputies will be a bit more stealthy. A new law will allow sheriff's department vehicles to be colors other than brown or white, but they still must have the star on each front door.
  • School bus drivers will be forbidden from using cell phones while driving - how about doing the same thing, at least for handheld phones, for all drivers! A few weeks ago I was almost done-in by a driver who had a phone to the ear, a drink in the other hand (which was also on the wheel), and a cigarette in the mouth. Too much multi-tasking.
  • Restaurants and bars can now sell drinks that mix beer and wine with liquor. Enjoy your sangria or boilermaker. But, make sure you have a designated driver. Or roost in the bar overnight!
  • An archaic law (so described by the governor) was repealed. It allowed a man who sexually attacked a girl aged 14-16 to get off the criminal hook if he offered to marry the victim. Legislators also eliminated the law that required victims of sexual assault to take a lie detector test and commit to prosecution of the attacker before the state paid for a forensic medical exam.
  • It is now a crime for adults to French kiss a child younger than 13. It carries a pretty high punishment - up to a year in jail, $2,500 fine, and registration as a sex offender.
Don't be a dumb cluck - obey these laws!

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