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Out in 2021: cell phones and driving, online firearm training

South Boston News / January 06, 2021

New laws have taken effect in Virginia with the start of the new year. Among the most prominent changes: motorists are now barred from holding or using a cellphone while driving, and Virginia has disallowed online training classes to obtain a concealed carry gun permit, requiring gun owners to undergo in-person training.

Hands-Free Law

Along with the start of a new year, Jan. 1, marked the day Virginia joined more than two dozen other states that make it illegal for drivers to hold their cell phone or other mobile devices while driving. It is an expansion of Virginia’s existing law that outlaws texting and emailing while driving and use of handheld devices while driving through a work zone.

Violations come with stiff penalties. A first offense carries a $125 fine. It doubles to $250 for a second offense, or if a driver is caught breaking the law in a highway work zone.

Members of DRIVE SMART Virginia, a non-profit organization started in 1995 by insurers Allstate, GEICO, Nationwide, State Farm, USAA, and Virginia Farm Bureau, pushed for the change in state law as part of their mission to raise traffic safety awareness and reduce traffic fatalities and injuries.

The bill passed at the urging of Gov. Ralph Northam and with bipartisan support.

There are some exceptions to this new law. They apply to:

» Operators of any emergency vehicle while engaged in the performance of his official duties;

» An operator of a lawfully parked or stopped vehicle;

» Any person using a handheld personal communications device to report an emergency;

» The use of an amateur or a citizens band radio; or

» The operator of any Department of Transportation vehicle or vehicle operated pursuant to the Department of Transportation safety service patrol program or pursuant to a contract with the Department of Transportation for traffic incident management services.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identified distracted driving as a crisis that needed immediate correction. DRIVE SMART Virginia shared a study conducted by Virginia Tech which found that 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of all near crashes involved driver inattention within three seconds of the crash, and that texting while driving increases a crash risk by 2,300 percent, because it involves manual, visual and cognitive distraction.

Concealed handgun training

As of Jan. 1, applicants seeking a concealed carry permit will have to receive in-person safety instruction to fulfill the state’s training requirements. On-line or virtual classes will no longer satisfy this requirement.

The change was one of several pieces of gun reform legislation enacted by the General Assembly earlier this year. Backers of the bill claimed that online classes did not adequately educate gun owners on safety requirements. Opponents of the bill said the law would create a barrier for some gun owners, particularly during the pandemic.

While online gun safety courses are still available, they cannot be used by a concealed carry permit applicant as proof of demonstrated competence with a handgun. Courses that satisfy the licensing requirement include in-person:

» hunter education or safety courses approved by the Department of Wildlife Resources or a similar agency of another state;

» National Rifle Association firearms safety or training courses;

» firearms safety or training courses or classes available to the general public offered by a law-enforcement agency, institution of higher education, or private or public institution or organization or firearms training school utilizing instructors certified by the National Rifle Association or the Department of Criminal Justice Services;

» law-enforcement firearms safety or training courses or classes offered for security guards, investigators, special deputies, or any division or subdivision of law enforcement or security enforcement; or

» any governmental police agency firearms training course and qualifying to carry a firearm in the course of normal police duties.

Firearm sales surged in Virginia in 2020, according to background check records from the Virginia Firearms Transaction Center. In the first 11 months of 2020, 716,563 background checks for firearm sales were conducted in Virginia. The previous annual record of 505,722 was set in 2016.

Earlier this year, members of the Virginia Senate unanimously passed a bill that would have pushed back the enactment date of the new law to July 2021, but the bill failed in the House.

Surprise medical billing

Another law that was backed by Northam impacts patients with health insurance who are billed for out-of-network services. The new law stops insurance providers from billing patients for costs when they get healthcare from out-of-network providers.

Surprise billing — or balance billing — occurs when patients enrolled in managed care health insurance plans receive bills for more than their plan’s cost-sharing amounts (such as deductibles, coinsurance and co-pays) directly from out-of-network providers. This new law protects individuals from balance billing for emergency services, non-emergency laboratory and professional services including surgery, anesthesia, pathology, radiology and hospitalist services.

“No one should have to fear going bankrupt just for getting the medical care they need, not during a pandemic or ever,” Northam wrote on Twitter on Dec. 31, a day before the new law took effect.

Under the new law, insurers and providers must work together to resolve balance billing disputes, rather than the provider simply sending the consumer a balance billing. Out-of-network healthcare providers must first submit any claim to the consumer’s insurer or health plan. The insurer is then required to pay the provider a “commercially reasonable amount” that is based on payments for the same or similar services in a similar geographic area. This payment will satisfy the debt thereby eliminating any balance billing.

If the provider and insurer cannot agree on the amount due, the provider and the insurer or health plan may begin a claims resolution process that could include arbitration.

Additionally, the new law requires health care facilities and medical providers to notify consumers about balance billing protection for out-of-network services, tell consumers how to determine if they are protected from surprise billing, when they can be balance billed, and what to do if they are billed too much.

The new balance billing law does not automatically apply to self-funded group health plans and certain other self-funded plans, but those plans may opt in so that the law’s protections apply to their enrollees. A list of elective group health plans that have chosen to opt in is available on the SCC Bureau of Insurance website at Search Elective Group Health Plans/Balance Billing.

Health care providers with a pattern of violations under the new law may be fined by the Virginia Board of Medicine, the Virginia Commissioner of Health or the SCC.

Driver privilege cards

On Friday, Virginia became the first southern state to offer undocumented immigrants a legal way to drive. The more than 300,000 undocumented immigrants who can’t obtain a standard or REAL ID complaint license in Virginia may qualify for a driver privilege card if:

» they are a non-US citizen who is a resident of Virginia;

» they have reported income from Virginia sources or are claimed as a dependent on a tax return filed in Virginia in the past 12 months; and

» their driver privilege card issued by another state is not currently suspended or revoked.

Since these driver privilege cards are not REAL ID-compliant, they cannot be used to board an airplane or enter a secure federal facility. Additionally, driver privilege card applicants are not eligible for a commercial driver’s license or identification card.

Applicants for the new card might find it difficult to obtain one during the pandemic since most local DMV offices are operating by appointment only and anyone seeking the cards will need at least two appointments, one for a written test and another for a road test, before it is issued.

Drone Regulations

Localities can now regulate the takeoff and landing of drones on publicly owned property.


All candidates for local office, not just those from large jurisdictions, must file campaign finance reports electronically.

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So the communist take over is expanding in Virginia. To carry a gun you should not need any type of permit. It is in the Bill of Rights. King Ralph is worse than any two bit dictator.

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