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|By Dennis Cauchon,USA Today
Posted: 2007-07-01 15:18:05
Filed Under: Law, Nation
(July 1) - Virginia is for lovers, or so the state slogan has declared since 1969. Starting today, Virginia also will be the home of the $3,000 traffic ticket. In an effort to raise money for road projects, the state will start hitting residents who commit serious traffic offenses with huge civil penalties.
Beginning Sunday, Virginia is adding new civil charges to traffic fines. They range from $750 to $3,000 and will be added to existing fines and court costs. The civil penalty for going 20 mph over the speed limit will be $1,050, plus $61 in court costs and a fine that is typically about $200.
Virginia's traffic law is one of several thousand new state laws that take effect Sunday. Jan. 1 and July 1 are the most popular dates for state laws to become official.
July 1 is especially popular for new taxes and fees because it's the start of the budget year in 46 states. For example, Arkansas will cut its sales tax on groceries from 6% to 3% Sunday.
Virginia's new traffic penalties are expected to raise $65 million a year and are part of an effort to improve the state's roads without raising taxes.
A first-time drunken driver will face a $2,250 civil penalty, plus fines and court costs that typically run about $500 or more. Driving without a license? That's a mandatory $900 civil penalty, in addition to the ordinary $100 for a fine and court costs.
"It's outrageous," says traffic court attorney Thaddeus Furlong of Springfield, Va. "When Mr. and Mrs. Middle Class find out what they have to pay, there's going to be a backlash like you've never seen."
Some other states impose extra civil penalties for traffic offenses, but the cost is usually $100 or $200, Furlong says. "What sets this apart is the Draconian size of the civil penalties," he says.
Another difference: The civil penalties apply only to Virginia residents, not out-of-state drivers. Virginians must pay in three installments over 26 months or lose their licenses. The state Legislature didn't think it could enforce the extra penalties in other states.
Motorist club AAA Mid-Atlantic supports the new penalties.
"These penalties are harsh, but normal fines haven't gotten people to drive sanely. Maybe this will," says Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
He says the new law will help reduce the nearly 1,000 traffic deaths the state records annually.
"We wish motorists didn't have to pay more, but the fact is Virginia's transportation trust fund is broke," Anderson says.
Other new laws taking effect July 1:
Drunken Driving: Wyoming bans open containers in vehicles. South Dakota expands a program that requires repeat drunken drivers to check in at jails twice daily for breath testing. Supporters say it reduces jail costs and allows people to continue working, support their families and stay sober.
Health: New York City bans trans fats. Massachusetts' sweeping health care insurance law takes full effect, with everyone required to have health insurance — either with state help or purchased privately.
Children's Health: California bans soda sales on school campuses during school hours, and puts new limits on sugar and fat content in school food. Florida starts a one-year pilot program to test randomly for steroid use among high school athletes participating in football, baseball and weightlifting.
Cervical Cancer: Indiana schools must tell parents of sixth-grade girls about the link between human papillomavirus and cervical cancer, and about the availability of a new vaccine. North Carolina also requires schools to tell parents about the disease and the vaccine. Nevada requires insurers to cover the new vaccine.
Sex Education: Colorado bans abstinence-only sex education in all schools (except for one district), requiring schools to teach sex education based on scientific research and to include information on contraception.
Energy: Nevada and Minnesota encourage conservation and alternative energy. North Dakota begins a temporary tax break to spur the drilling of more oil wells in an area called the Bakken geologic formation.
Sex Offenders: Virginia requires convicted sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses with the state. Nevada forces certain sex offenders to live at least 1,000 feet away from schools and other places children gather. Connecticut creates a new crime for those who abuse a child under 13 that carries a 25-year prison sentence.
Showing ID:Tennessee requires everyone who buys beer at a store to show identification, regardless of their age.
War and Veterans: Minnesota provides state education assistance to veterans, or family members of dead or disabled veterans. Idaho limits protests at military funerals. Florida bars commercial use of names or pictures of service members without their permission or their families' permission, if they are deceased.
Immigration: Georgia's tough anti-illegal immigration laws kick in, requiring public employers with 500 or more employees -- and any contractors -- to verify that all new hires are in the country lawfully. The state also checks to make sure that anyone over age 18 who is receiving benefits is in the country legally. Idaho requires proof of legal residency for most forms of public assistance.
Abortion: Women seeking abortions in Georgia must be given a chance to see an ultrasound image of the fetus and listen for a heartbeat. In Mississippi, an abortion provider must perform a sonogram and give a pregnant woman the chance to listen to the heartbeat.
Minimum Wage: Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania were among the states that raised their minimum wage.
Sexual Orientation:Gays and lesbians are protected by Iowa's civil rights laws. Vermont bars discrimination against people who change their genders or discrimination based on whether they present themselves as a man or a woman.
Medical Marijuana: New Mexico legalized the medical use of marijuana. Rhode Island made permanent its medical marijuana program, which was to expire June 30. Vermont expanded the use of medical marijuana from only those with terminal diseases to those with some chronic diseases, too.