- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 27, 2009

Put the phone down or pay up.

When hundreds of laws that legislators passed this winter take effect Wednesday, Virginia will join 13 other states and the District that have banned texting while driving.

Safe-driving advocates said texting or e-mailing while driving significantly increases the chances of getting into a wreck.

Delegate John A. Cosgrove, Chesapeake Republican and the bill’s sponsor, cited a crash in Florida this spring when the driver of a tractor-trailer hit a school bus while text messaging his wife, killing one student and injuring several others.

“There is no message other than ‘I’m in serious, serious jeopardy’ that is worth that type of risk,” he said.

Those who text or e-mail while driving can receive a $20 fine or $50 for a second offense, but drivers can only receive a citation if they were pulled over for another offense. The law makes an exception for emergency responders such as paramedics or police officers, or those reporting an emergency.

Those frustrated that they can no longer pluck away at their handhelds during rush hour can take solace in knowing they can light up at their favorite restaurant for another five months.

The General Assembly’s historic curbs on smoking in restaurants and bars will not take effect until Dec. 1. Then, restaurants that intend to allow smoking must confine it to closed, separately ventilated rooms or open-air decks or patios outside. Private clubs are exempt.

Lawmakers put off the effective date to give restaurant owners who wish to retain a smoking section enough time to make modifications. They also wanted to make sure the ban would not be fresh on voters’ minds when they go to the polls in November to pick all 100 House of Delegates seats.

Beginning Wednesday, stores will no longer be allowed to sell novelty cigarette lighters to juveniles. The lighters resembling cartoon characters, toys, guns or other things children might find amusing must be kept out of reach to the public, and any clerk who sells one to a minor will face up to a $100 fine.

New laws will also allow courts to suspend a minor’s driver’s license if the student misses 10 consecutive days of school and will prohibit mopeds from being driven on interstates.

Lawmakers also stepped in to settle a dispute between the Virginia State Board of Elections and civil rights groups that sued over the board’s ruling last fall that voters could not wear political T-shirts, buttons or other paraphernalia to the polls.

Also beginning Wednesday, localities must attempt to sell guns they collect in buyback programs — except machine guns and sawed-off shotguns — to licensed dealers before destroying them.

Opponents argued the new law defeats the purpose of the buyback programs, which give gun owners something for their unwanted weapon so authorities can get guns off the streets.

Beginning Wednesday it also will be easier for gun owners to get a concealed-carry permit. Legislators overrode Gov. Tim Kaine’s veto of a bill that will allow those applying for a permit to complete the required firearms training online or by video.

Mr. Kaine objected because there was no way to prove the person who wants the permit is the one who completed the course.

And while every year there are laws passed to create specialty license plates for various causes or organizations — there are more than 200 available — legislators approved one this year to establish a “Choose Life” plate for abortion opponents.

Virginia joins 23 other states that offer the “Choose Life” plate — some after lengthy court battles.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide