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New laws take effect July 1 in Virginia and Maryland

Protesters call for the repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights in a protest in Annapolis in 2021. The repeal takes effect July 1. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

RICHMOND — Virginians will pay more in gas taxes yet have an easier time getting medical marijuana, hunting on Sundays and transporting alcohol across state lines, while in Maryland sweeping police accountability measures take effect starting Friday, when a host of new laws kick in across the region.

Maryland’s police accountability measures include the repeal of the powerful Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR), along with new rules for when police may use force and how they are investigated and disciplined.

Since the 1970s, LEOBR has dictated that police officers accused of misconduct, including the excessive use of force, could only be investigated by fellow officers — not civilians. The new law requires counties to assemble Police Accountability Boards (PAB) and Administrative Charging Committees (ACC), where civilians will have a role in reviewing and investigating allegations of misconduct, and in certain cases, in meting out administrative repercussions.

Officers who get into trouble starting Friday will be subject to the new procedures.

The new use-of-force standard, one of the strictest in the nation, requires officers to prioritize de-escalation tactics and says they may not use force against a person unless “under the totality of the circumstances, the force is necessary and proportional.” Under the statute, an officer who uses excessive force faces criminal penalties, up to 10 years in prison.

Some of the new laws taking effect in Virginia bear the stamp of the state’s new Republican governor, who won the office promising to cut taxes and give parents more control over public schools. One of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s most prominent goals, elimination of the grocery tax, will not take effect until January, however, and won’t go as far as he would have liked. (Democrats who control the state Senate only agreed to nix the 1.5 percent state portion of the tax; the 1 percent levied by localities will remain in place.)

“On day one, the governor promised Virginians he would get to work on keeping our communities safe, restoring excellence in education, reforming the [Virginia Employment Commission], increasing school resource officers, protecting our students at schools, and supporting our law enforcement and veterans; the bills taking effect July 1 demonstrate that the governor has delivered on his key priorities and promises,” Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said in a written statement.

Democrats thwarted Youngkin’s efforts to suspend the state’s 26.2 cents per-gallon gas tax for three months. In fact, the tax will rise by 1.8 cents per gallon starting Friday, bringing it to 28 cents per gallon.

The change is the result of a law passed in 2020, which indexed the motor fuels tax to inflation but delayed enactment on that provision for two years. The hike for diesel is 1.9 cents per gallon, raising it from 27 cents to 28.9 cents.

Both changes reflect a 7 percent adjustment based on the consumer price index. Youngkin proposed capping the CPI adjustment to 2 percent, but Democrats rebuffed him.

An additional hike of 0.4 cents per gallon takes effect, the result of a statute that dates to the late 1980s that triggers an increase if the Petroleum Storage Tank Fund dips below $12 million.

In the area of education, a new Virginia law will require principals to alert police to certain misdemeanors alleged to have taken place at schools. This replaces a law, championed by Democrats in recent years as a way to break the “school-to-prison pipeline,” that gave principals more discretion on reporting non-felonies.

The previous law became an issue in last year’s governor’s race amid an uproar over the Loudoun County School Board’s handling of a pair of sexual assaults.

Another new Virginia law stemming from a hot campaign topic requires that schools notify parents of any assignments involving sexually explicit material. Parents may opt their children out and teachers have to provide those students with a different assignment.

The law takes effect Friday but its impact on classrooms will not be felt for many months. The Department of Education has until the end of July to develop model policies related to implementing the law. Local school boards then have until January to adopt their own policies consistent with the state’s model.

A new election law directs registrars to cull dead Virginians from the voter rolls weekly instead of monthly. Another requires that they report absentee ballots by precinct, a measure meant to bring more transparency to elections.

In another change, Virginians will be allowed to transport up to three gallons of alcohol across state lines if it is for personal use, up from the previous one-gallon limit. The state has also eased laws related to medical marijuana, dropping a requirement that patients register with the state Board of Pharmacy. They still need written certification from a medical provider.

Hunting will be allowed on public land on Sundays in Virginia, something that had been prohibited since Colonial times. The legislature previously lifted the Sunday ban on private land.

Other measures taking effect Friday in Maryland include an end to sales taxes on various essentials such diapers, baby bottles, toothbrushes, diabetic supplies and other medical devices. The tax relief is one element of a broader five-year tax cut package meant to help seniors and working families and reward businesses that hire people who are out of work.

Another Maryland law in effect Friday largely prohibits public schools from using seclusion as a behavioral intervention. It allows seclusion in nonpublic schools, but with restrictions such as requiring a qualified health-care practitioner to observe the student during seclusion. The law comes after a 2020 federal investigation that found that the Frederick County Public School District improperly secluded and restrained students with disabilities.

And as of Friday, Maryland law will explicitly allow student-athletes to modify their uniforms to make them more modest to conform to their religion, culture or personal preference. Among those who advocated for the law was Je’Nan Hayes, who was benched during a 2017 high school basketball game because she was wearing a hijab.

Next door in the District, most new laws take effect at the start of its fiscal year on Oct. 1. But the annual cost-of-living adjustment to the minimum wage takes effect Friday; minimum-wage workers there will see their hourly pay increase from $15.50 to $16.10.

Julie Zauzmer Weil contributed to this report.

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