2021 begins with several new laws in Virginia

The new year kicks off with some new laws in Virginia. The changes impact concealed handgun permits, the use of your cell phone when driving, the cost of insulin, surprise medical bills and how independent contractors are classified. Here’s more information about each of them.

Holding a cell phone while driving
This past July it became illegal in Virginia to hold a cell phone while driving a moving vehicle on the highways in Virginia, but the new law will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2021, to give the public time to learn about the new law. Starting Jan. 1, police will begin enforcing it. A first offense carries a $125 fine and, for a second or subsequent offense, the driver will be fined $250. Breaking the law in a highway work zone is punishable by a mandatory $250 fine. You can still talk on the phone while driving, but you can’t hold the phone. Get answers to frequently asked questions about the new law from the Drive Smart public information campaign.

Concealed handgun training
Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, under a new state law, anyone who applies for a concealed carry permit will need to take a firearms training or safety course in-person. Virtual courses will no longer fulfill the state’s training requirement as previously allowed. Click here to see the full text of the bill.

Limits on the cost of insulin
This new law prohibits health insurance companies and other carriers from setting an amount exceeding $50 per 30-day supply of insulin for Virginia residents. The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021 and covers prescription insulin drug. Click here to read the full text of the bill.

Misclassifying independent contractors
Another new law that takes effect in Virginia in the new year is one that prohibits an employer from classifying an individual as an independent contractor if he is an employee, unless they can demonstrate that the worker is a contractor . The Department of Taxation determines if someone is an independent contractor based on IRS guidelines. Violators are subject to fines and could be barred from public contracts. Click here to read the full text of the bill.

Surprise medical billing
A new law that helps protect Virginia families from receiving unexpected medical bills goes into effect Jan. 1. This impacts patients with health insurance who are billed for out-of-network emergency services, typically when an insured patient receives health care from a provider not in their insurance company’s network. The new law states “the health carrier shall treat any cost-sharing requirement (determined under subsection B) in the same manner as the cost-sharing requirement for health care services provided by an in-network provider and shall apply any cost-sharing amount paid by the enrollee for such services toward the in-network maximum out-of-pocket payment obligation” So, if the enrollee pays the out-of-network provider an amount that exceeds the amount determined, the provider will refund the excess amount. The “balance billing” legislation was patroned by House Appropriations Chair Luke Torian and Senator Barbara Favola. During a ceremonial signing of the bill, Senator Favola said, “We all agreed that the patient should be removed from having to resolve an unexpected medical bill. We all agreed that patients need to focus on healing after they receive medical treatment and not be burdened with the financial implications of a surprise bill.” Click here to see the bill.

Driver privilege cards
A driver privilege card is a driving credential for non-US citizens who don’t meet Virginia’s legal presence requirements, making them ineligible to receive a standard or REAL ID-compliant driver’s license in Virginia.

Marijuana scent stop and search
Starting on March 1, search and seizures based solely on the odor or marijuana will no longer be allowed under Virginia law. Activists have said it’ll help end adverse enforcement against marginalized communities. Data from the ACLU shows Black people are more than three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession compared to white people. This law also comes on the heels of marijuana decriminalization in Virginia, which went into effect July 1, 2020. That measure makes possessing an ounce or less or marijuana a civil matter, punishable with a $25 fine. Click here for additional information on the search and seizure law going into effect March 1.

Minimum wage increase
Starting May 1, the minimum wage in Virginia will increase to $9.50 an hour. It’s currently at the federally-mandated rate of $7.25 an hour. It will rise again to $11 an hour Jan. 1, 2022, then $12 on Jan. 1, 2023, $13.50 per hour on Jan. 1, 2025, and $15 per hour on Jan. 1, 2026. The increases in 2025 and 2026 require reenactment by the General Assembly by July 1, 2024. Click here to read more about the minimum wage increase.

Skill game definition
On July 1, the definition for games of skill will be different from games of chance such as slot machines. Skill games will no longer be exempt from Virginia’s ban on gambling. There are some exceptions provided by the bill. Click here to learn more.

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