Friday, June 30, 2006

Beginning today, Virginia residents can no longer serve alcohol to house guests who are under 21, unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The new law closes a loophole that had allowed parents to host their children’s parties and serve alcohol to their underage guests. It is among 943 bills passed by the Republican-controlled 2006 General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat. Most take effect today.

“This needed, new law not only closes a loophole in Virginia law but also, hopefully, the door to the high school graduation ‘kegger,’” said Kurt Gregory Erickson, president of the McLean-based Washington Regional Alcohol Program.

Laura Dawson, whose 18-year-old son, Matt, was killed by a drunken driver on Memorial Day 1999, agreed with the change.

“I believe anything we can do to stop underage drinking is effective,” said Mrs. Dawson, a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD. “Hopefully, a life can be saved. Not only them, but who they encounter.”

Another law that takes effect today authorizes tougher penalties for owners of dogs that seriously injure others.

The law was prompted by the dog-mauling death of 82-year-old widow Dorothy Sullivan.

Mrs. Sullivan was attacked by three roaming pit bulls while walking her Shih Tzu, Buttons, in her rural Spotsylvania County front yard in March 2005. Buttons also was killed in the attack, which sparked outrage in the community.

Lawmakers approved legislation to make a felony certain dog attacks that result in serious injury, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

Deanna Large, owner of the pit bulls that attacked Mrs. Sullivan, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to three years in prison. The tougher law dealing explicitly with dog attacks was not yet on the books.

Also taking effect are new laws that suspend the driver’s license of adults who illegally provide alcohol to teens and require a six-month minimum license suspension for anyone convicted of underage possession or consumption of alcohol.

People who sell phony international driver’s licenses will be subject to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine starting today. A new law making it a misdemeanor to sell, give or distribute a document purporting to be a driver’s license is intended to strengthen existing restrictions on producing bogus licenses.

The law targets people who sell the counterfeit licenses to unsuspecting immigrants, who can obtain an authentic International Driver’s Permit from AAA Mid-Atlantic or the American Automobile Touring Alliance.

Sex offenders also will face tougher punishment and more intensive monitoring after their release from prison. Among the changes taking effect this month is a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years for offenders who commit certain violent sex crimes against children younger than 13. Perpetrators of such crimes previously faced five years to life in prison.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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