Changes at pump, behind wheel, at ballot box effective July 1 in Virginia, Maryland

June 29, 2013

Starting Monday, unmarried Virginians who live together will no longer be breaking the law, but drivers caught texting in the commonwealth will face stiffer penalties, and in Maryland, early voting will expand and military personnel seeking credentials for civilian jobs should see a more streamlined process.

Virginia motorists also can expect to pay less at the pump, while driving in Maryland will get more expensive as part of new laws that will take effect Monday.

In Virginia, much of the state’s transportation funding overhaul will be put into action, including a reduction of the 17.5 cents-per-gallon gas tax to a 3.5 percent wholesale levy. Diesel gas will be taxed 6 percent.

The tax on car sales will increase from 3 percent to 4 percent and will rise incrementally through 2016. Alternative-fuel vehicles, including electric cars and hybrids, will require an annual fee of $64 , up from $50.

The initial proposal for the alternative-fuel vehicle tax was $100, but Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) lowered it during a veto session amid a backlash. On Monday, hybrid owners plan to rally for a repeal of the tax at the Alexandria office of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The “love shack” bill, which clears the way for lawful cohabitation for unwed couples in the commonwealth, targeted an 1877 law that made it a misdemeanor for “any persons, not married to each other, [to] lewdly and lasciviously associate and cohabit together.” Virginia was one of four states — including Florida, Michigan and Mississippi — with such a statute still on the books.

Police will no longer need a reason to pull over drivers suspected of texting, although it is unclear how officers would determine when to act. First offenders face a $125 fine — an increase of $105. A second offense will be fined $250, up from $200. Emergency vehicle operators engaged in official duties are exempt.

Also taking effect is a law banning the use of electronic welfare benefits to buy alcohol, tobacco, tattoos, pornography and lottery tickets, or at strip clubs. The bill aims to crack down on fraud and complies with a similar federal law.

Doctors will have to inform patients tested for Lyme disease that lab testing can produce false negatives in the early stages of the disease. The law makes Virginia the first state with such a requirement. Proponents argued that disclosure was necessary to fully educate patients about potential exposure to the disease.

A two-year moratorium on drones will take effect while the state explores how best to balance the right to privacy with the use of new technology. The ban does not apply to the Virginia National Guard or to state and local authorities assessing traffic, damage or wildfires, or to research institutions studying the technology.

Motorists who fill up in Maryland will pay an additional 3.5 cents per gallon of gas, as the state tax rises to 27 cents. The increase is the first of several that will be phased in over the next few years under a broad transportation measure lawmakers approved in March.

The legislation, which was supported by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), is projected to raise an additional $4.4 billion for road and transit projects over the next six years, including in the heavily congested Washington region.

O’Malley has released an initial list of $1.2 billion in new spending projects, including $280 million in design work on the Purple Line, the proposed rail link between Bethesda and New Carrollton.

Tolls around Maryland also are set to increase Monday.

For passengers paying cash, rates will rise to $4 from $3 for passenger vehicles using the Fort McHenry Tunnel, the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel or the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

On the Bay Bridge, it will cost $6 per passenger vehicle, an increase of $2. It will cost $6 to cross the Nice Bridge in southern Maryland, which carries Route 301 over the Potomac River. Tolls on Interstate 95 between Baltimore and Delaware will go up to $8 from $6, as will tolls for driving on the Hatem Bridge over the Susquehanna River.

The Veterans Full Employment Act of 2013, which will take effect Monday, drew the praise of first lady Michelle Obama, who joined O’Malley at the signing ceremony in April.

Besides speeding up the process for numerous credentials and licenses needed for civilian jobs, the law will allow military training to count as college-level academic credit in some cases.

A new law will require that by 2018, battery-operated smoke alarms must be sealed and tamper-resistant units with a “silence/hush” button and use long-life batteries. The measure also makes several clarifications to Maryland’s existing patchwork of laws affecting residential smoke alarms.

Under another measure, early voting in Maryland will be expanded from six days to eight. The new law also will increase the number of early-voting sites and allows same-day registration during early-voting periods.

Another law will make it possible for same-sex couples in Maryland to file state income taxes jointly. The state legalized gay nuptials in January, but a quirk in tax law did not make it immediately possible for married couples to file together.

Mark Berman contributed to this report.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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