New state laws go into effect Sunday

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RICHMOND — New laws passed by the General Assembly — including voter-identification requirements and repeal of the one-handgun-a-month purchasing restriction — in what was seen as one of the most contentious sessions in years go into effect Sunday.

A bevy of controversial acts were approved by state lawmakers and signed by Gov. Bob McDonnell during the 2012 legislative session, including mandatory ultrasounds before abortions, which lead to mass-protests on the Capitol grounds and made Virginia the butt of jokes on late-night comedy shows from"The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" to"Saturday Night Live."

The requirement that women undergo an abdominal ultrasound before getting an abortion received the most attention by far of any of the new laws going into effect. The law originally called for women to receive a more invasive transvaginal ultrasound, but that was scaled back in a deal worked out between the governor and legislators after silent protests by more than a thousand people left lawmakers visibly shaken as they walked between their office building and the Capitol.

In addition to having the ultrasound, women will be asked by their physicians if they want to see the results of the procedure. If a woman doesn't want to see the ultrasound she will be required to sign a statement to that effect, which will become a part of her medical records.

Debate over the new voter-identification requirements also sparked protests on the Capitol grounds, with opponents of the law saying it was a step backward for Virginia to the days when blacks were systematically barred from voting.

Under the new law voters must bring an acceptable form of ID to their polling place or they will be required to use a provisional ballot to cast their votes.

This does away with the old rule that allowed voters without identification to sign an affidavit affirming they are who they say they are and then cast a regular ballot.

The law does expand the list of acceptable identification documents to include a voter registration card, a student ID, a utility bill or a paycheck.

In a win for gun-rights activists, starting Sunday Virginians will be able to buy more than one handgun a month for the first time in 20 years.

Lawmakers decided to do away with the one-handgun-a-month purchasing restriction put in place in 1992 to try to stem the flow of illegal firearms out of Virginia at a time when the commonwealth had become known as the gun-running capital of the East Coast.

Proponents of the law said the prohibition was no longer necessary because stricter federal and state background checks made it much less likely that convicted felons and the mentally ill would be able to purchase handguns.

Another new law that sparked heated debate allows private and not-for-profit agencies that provide adoption and foster-care services for the state to use a "conscience clause" to deny placement of children based on the group's moral and religious tenets, such as opposition to homosexuality or single parenthood.

Penalties for driving under the influence get stiffer as anyone convicted of a first drunk-driving offense must have an ignition interlock installed in their vehicles. The interlock system analyzes the driver's breath and prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver's blood alcohol level is more than .02 percent. The legal limit for blood alcohol levels is .08 percent.

Prompted by the Penn State Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal, coaches at the state's colleges as well as those who coach recreational sports such as little league baseball, pop warner football or swim teams, will be required to report cases of child abuse within 24 hours of learning such abuse has taken place.

Don't be surprised if the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnelis soon renamed the Verizon or Pepsi Bridge Tunnel, because as of Sunday private entities will be allowed to buy the naming rights for the state's highways, bridges and tunnels in an effort to generate much-needed cash for the commonwealth's sorely underfunded and crumbling transportation system.

Each of the state's public schools will now have a supply of "epipens," injectable epinephrine devises, to use in case a student has an allergic reaction and goes into anaphylactic shock. The motivation behind the law was the death of a child with a severe peanut allergy at a Richmond school following a class party.

Starting Sunday disabled veterans will be able to get free lifetime hunting and fishing licenses under a law sponsored by local Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News.

And in a law sponsored by Del. Brenda Pogge, R-York County, local governments across the state will not be allowed to prohibit employees from keeping firearms in locked cars in the parking lots of official buildings.

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