Bigger school zones, fentanyl labeled a ‘weapon of terrorism’ and more new Virginia laws coming July 1

A Fairfax County police officer watches traffic pass through a 25 mph school zone (via FCPD)

A number of new laws will take effect in Virginia this weekend, including expanded school zones, a prohibition on sexual harassment non-disclosure agreements, and classification of fentanyl as a “weapon of terrorism.”

Most laws passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor each year go into effect on July 1, which marks the beginning of the new fiscal year.

This year, nearly 740 bills were signed into law. Some are more mundane, while others could significantly impact Fairfax County residents, like last year’s banning of ticket quotas and medical marijuana patients no longer needing to register with the state.

Here are nine noteworthy laws going into effect tomorrow (Saturday) in Virginia:

Prohibiting sexual harassment non-disclosure agreements 

Introduced by local Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41), HB 1895 — also known as the Silenced No More Act — prohibits any non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with the “purpose or effect of concealing the details of a sexual harassment claim.” If any such agreement does exist, it’s now “void and unenforceable,” per the new law. It mirrors recently enacted laws in other states as well as federal protections.

Assaulting a public transportation operator now leads to additional jail time

As attacks on bus drivers increase, HB 2330 now makes assaulting public transportation operators a Class 1 misdemeanor. That means a fine of up to $2,500 and up to one year in jail. The legislation, introduced by Del. Delores McQuinn of Richmond, also bans those convicted from using public transit systems.

However, critics say assailants often flee the scene prior to being arrested, suggesting the new law may not be particularly effective.

Fentanyl as “a weapon of terrorism” 

Fentanyl overdoses have increasingly become a major concern, particularly among young adults, in Fairfax County and nationwide. To impose harsher penalties on the drug’s manufacturing and distribution, SB 1188 and identical bill HB 1682 reclassify fentanyl as a “weapon of terrorism,” making those acts Class 4 felonies that could carry up to 10 years of jail time.

The new law is similar to ones in other states, though critics say the law doesn’t take into account context or circumstances, and increasing penalties could make people less likely to call authorities when someone they are with overdoses.

Solicitation of a minor disqualifying for potential public school workers

Along with physical and sexual abuse, solicitation of a minor has been added as an offense that will bar someone from being employed or doing contract work for a public school, if convicted, under HB 1822.

The legislation is partially in response to last year’s conviction of a then-Fairfax County Public Schools counselor who solicited prostitution from a minor in Chesterfield. While the man was arrested in November and convicted in March, FCPS didn’t fire him until August. An investigation found Chesterfield officials didn’t notify FCPS until months after the incident. The Chesterfield Police Department claimed emails bounced back and went to spam.

Dedicated school contact for law enforcement 

Also spurred by the FCPS counselor case is a new law requiring all Virginia public school divisions to designate a contact for law enforcement and courts related to fielding any reports of school employee arrests or convictions. SB 821 was introduced by local lawmaker Scott Surovell (D-36).

Increasing the size of the school zone

School zone boundaries are increasing from 600 feet to 750 feet from school property, allowing localities to reduce speed limits around schools to 25 mph. Speeding and road safety have become major concerns locally. Last year, a driver allegedly speeding near Oakton High School struck and killed several pedestrians.

Drivers must slow down for stalled vehicles

As another traffic safety measure, drivers will now be required to “make a lane change or reduce speed when passing stationary vehicles” with activated hazard lights, caution signs or “properly lit flares or torches on certain highways when safe and reasonable to do so.” The expansion of Virginia’s “Move Over” law, which currently just addresses emergency vehicles, was introduced in the senate by Sen. Dave Marsden (D-37).

Drones can’t be used to spy or peep

With the proliferation of unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, a new law says a drone can’t be used to “secretly or furtively peep, spy, or attempt to peep or spy into or through a window, door, or other aperture of any building.” HB 1583 was introduced by local Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48). It passed the House and Senate unanimously.

Raising the minimum wage for employees with disabilities 

Currently, an exemption under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act lets employers pay disabled workers based on a “productivity calculation” instead of at least minimum wage. Virginia will eventually stop that practice, thanks to a new bill introduced by Del. Patrick Hope (D-47). However, Gov. Glenn Youngkin amended the bill to continue the exemption until 2030.

The original bill called for step increases, including one to take effect on July 1, that would have gotten pay up to the Virginia minimum wage by 2027. But the governor took away the gradual increase, instead just eliminating the exemption in its entirety in 2030.

Photo via FCPD