Legislative update: Legislation impacting taxes and public safety

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(The Center Square) — This week marked the halfway point of Virginia’s 2024 legislative session.

Both chambers have passed no legislation yet, but here’s an update on tax and public safety legislation showing promise and some notably failed bills.

Taxes

Sunsetting the car tax – Failed: Despite the governor’s stated support for eliminating or phasing out Virginia’s “most hated tax,” the Senate passed a bill 38-0 that would keep the existing policy alive. A similar bill in the House made it through its first reading.

Retail sales tax holiday – Passed: A law reestablishing the annual retail sales tax holiday weekend in August after legislators mistakenly let it lapse in 2023 passed unanimously in a block vote in the House. The companion bill also passed unanimously in the Senate.

The holiday will occur from Friday through Sunday during the first weekend in August. It will apply to certain school supplies, clothing and footwear, Energy Star or WaterSense products, portable generators and hurricane preparedness equipment.

Limited local sales and use tax increases – Passed: Companion bills in the House of Delegates and the Senate would authorize a voter referendum in certain localities* wanting to raise their sales and use tax by up to one percent for school construction and renovation projects.

*Under current law, only Charlotte, Gloucester, Halifax, Henry, Mecklenburg, Northampton, Patrick and Pittsylvania counties, and the city of Danville are authorized to impose such a tax.

The bills have done well in their respective chambers. SB 14 passed the Senate 27-13, and HB 805 was read for the first time in the House on Friday.

Public Safety

Drug possession – Passed: Under current state law, possession of any amount of a controlled substance is a class 5 felony. The bill would make possession of less than one gram of a controlled substance a class 1 misdemeanor.

It passed the House 50-47.

Robbery offenses – Passed: Robbery was treated as a singular offense in the Code of Virginia before 2021, when the General Assembly enumerated degrees of robbery in the Code. But the penalties for robbery weren’t uniformly adapted throughout the law to the degrees of robbery; this law attempts to do that.

It passed the House 50-47.

Defendant’s immigration status – Passed: This bill prohibits inquiry into a defendant’s immigration status during a proceeding “unless otherwise admissible.” It would also require that all defendants be informed that criminal convictions could have immigration consequences, if applicable.

It passed the House 51-47.

Parental possession of substances – Passed: This bill protects parents in possession of alcohol, marijuana or prescription drugs from being denied custody or visitation of a child or being charged with abuse or neglect just because of that possession — though courts can consider possession with other factors when making custody determinations. The bill updates the law due to marijuana becoming legal in Virginia.

It passed the House 56-43.

Juvenile, court fines and fees – Passed: The bill would eliminate court costs, fines and fees to juveniles or their caregivers for prosecutions of criminal offenses. According to Del. Irene Shin, D-Fairfax, if the bill passes, Virginia would become “the ninth state to eliminate fines and fees in its youth justice system.”

It passed the House 50-47.

Photo monitoring, traffic signals – Passed: This bill would allow state and local law enforcement to place cameras at high-risk intersections where traffic fatalities have occurred, capturing speeding violations.

It passed the Senate 22-18.

License Plate Readers – Passed: Virginia law enforcement already uses license plate readers, but a House bill would expand allowable use to state highway rights-of-way and create statewide regulations for the technology. The bill says that LPRs can only be used in the case of a stolen vehicle, a wanted, missing or trafficked person, an active law enforcement investigation, “in the vicinity of a crime and may be connected to that crime.”

The bill passed the House 66-27.

Speeding cameras – Failed: Three similar Democrat-sponsored bills were incorporated into a bill by Michael Jones, D-Richmond, which would have authorized localities to place cameras along roadways to catch speeding violations. The bill was carried over to next year.

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