Monday, April 15, 2024

Three Interesting Bills of the Week: Animal Cruelty Offenders, Age of Marriage and Towing Fees

Gov. Glenn Youngkin recognized speakers at the 2024 State of the Commonwealth Address at the State Capitol in Richmond. Pictured behind him, from top left, are Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, House Majority Speaker Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, and Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, president pro tempore. (Nathaniel Cline/Virginia Mercury)

RICHMOND — Hundreds of bills are filed for General Assembly consideration each year. In the return of this weekly series, the Mercury takes a look at a few of lawmakers’ 2024 proposals that might not otherwise make headlines during the whirlwind legislative session.

House Bill 223 and Senate Bill 11: Restricting animal cruelty offenders from owning more animals

These twin proposals from Del. Bobby Orrock, R-Spotsylvania, and Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, would restrict the ability of a person convicted of animal cruelty to own or possess animals in the future.

Under the legislation, people with misdemeanor cruelty convictions could be prohibited from owning or possessing animals for up to five years, and people with felony convictions could be prohibited for life. The bill would apply to cruelty against all animals, not just companion animals like cats and dogs.

People who flouted those restrictions could be punished for contempt of court and have the animal confiscated. The court could then order the animal to be transferred to a local shelter, euthanized or given to another person with a legal right to it.

Two other bills introduced this session by Del. Ellen Campbell, R-Rockbridge, and Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, would create a state animal cruelty conviction list and local animal cruelty registries, all of which would be publicly accessible online.

House Bill 994: Setting Virginia’s legal age of marriage at 18

HB 994 from Del. Karen Keys-Gamarra, D-Fairfax, would set the legal age of marriage in Virginia at 18 years with no exceptions.

Under current law, a minor who is aged 16 or older may be emancipated for the sole purpose of getting legally married. Additionally, 16- and 17-year-olds who have already been legally emancipated can enter into a legal marriage.

The most recent change to Virginia’s legal age of marriage happened in 2016, when former state senator and now U.S. Rep. Jennifer McClellan successfully carried a bill prohibiting minors younger than 16 from getting married if they were pregnant and had parental consent.

McClellan’s legislation aimed to curb forced marriage, human trafficking and statutory rape disguised as marriage. According to the national nonprofit Tahirih Justice Center, 87% fewer minors were married in the year after McClellan’s bill passed compared to the year prior.

Senate Bill 66: Reducing towing fees

This bill from Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, would decrease the maximum amount a driver could be charged for the initial hookup and towing of their car without their consent from $150 to $50. It would also remove minimum hookup and towing fees currently in place in certain localities.

Towing regulations have increasingly become a hot topic in the General Assembly following a 2020 lawsuit by former Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring against Arlington towing company Advance Towing over allegations the company’s conduct was “frequently predatory, aggressive, overreaching and illegal.” A judge found only some of the state’s claims had merit and awarded Virginia just $750 in civil penalties.

More recently, Richmond-based towing company No Limit Towing sparked outrage among city residents this August when police accused it of illegally towing cars from private lots and then demolishing or selling the vehicles, sometimes within one day of taking the car.

Other bills this session from Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, and Stanley would prohibit tow truck drivers from offering their services at the scene of any incident that leaves a vehicle wrecked or disabled to the extent that law enforcement has requested that it be towed.

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