Sunday, April 14, 2024

Three Interesting Bills: English Ivy Sales, Decriminalizing Suicide and Juror Ages

A view of the Virginia House of Delegates Chamber in Richmond. (Nathaniel Cline/Virginia Mercury)

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

House Bill 1167: Letting localities prohibit the sale of English ivy

HB 1167 from Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, would give local governments the authority to prohibit the sale of English ivy, with violations punishable by up to $50 for the first infraction and $200 for a subsequent one within 12 months.

The delegate’s bill comes amid a growing conversation in the General Assembly around the issues surrounding invasive species, like English ivy. Krizek told the House Agriculture Subcommittee last week his bill is almost identical to current laws on running bamboo, another harmful invasive plant.

Even though Virginia considers English ivy to be invasive and research has shown it can cause immense — sometimes irreparable — damage to infrastructure and native species, the state does not prohibit its sale.

Krizek said the species becomes especially dangerous when it grows on trees because it can weigh them down and cause them to topple over.

“It’s a major killer of trees in Virginia,” Krizek said. “If you were to drive down the parkway in Mount Vernon, along the Potomac River you will see every single tree along that parkway is heavily laden with English ivy.”

The Virginia Agribusiness Council and Virginia Nursery and Landscaping Association told the subcommittee they oppose the bill, saying they would rather let the market determine if English ivy is in demand and give consumers the right to still purchase it.

The legislation has now passed out of committee, over Republican opposition, and is headed to the House floor.

House Bill 81: Decriminalizing suicide

This bill from Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, would get rid of the legal designation of suicide as a crime, which is preserved in Virginia code as a remnant of common law inherited from England.

Simon argued the criminalization of suicide can have detrimental impacts to surviving parents and spouses by barring them from filing wrongful death suits or claiming tax benefits.

“It has been seen to be a bar to a wrongful death suit in a case where [a family] had a child who was literally bullied to death,” Simon said.

The delegate said he was informed about the issue by Virginia Beach Commissioner of Revenue Phil Kellam, who said many military families whose spouse dies in the line of duty are entitled to tax relief but can’t claim it because dying in the line of duty is considered suicide under common law.

“I have had several instances where the U.S. Department of Defense has qualified the deceased as dead in the line of duty,” Kellam told the Mercury. “But under existing Virginia law, I am prohibited from qualifying the surviving spouse for tax relief because suicide is considered a criminal offense.”

Some Republican lawmakers like Del. Thomas Garrett, R-Buckingham, voiced concern that the bill could make it more difficult to prosecute people who assist others with suicide.

A 2021 version of Simon’s bill passed the House but was ultimately tabled over similar concerns in the Senate Committee on Judiciary.

“I think it should be the public policy that we aren’t stigmatizing folks that have succumbed to diseases of mental health, and depression and so forth, and died by their own hand, and [they] shouldn’t be labeled as criminals for any purpose moving forward,” Simon told the House.

The bill is now headed to the House floor.

Senate Bill 638: Increasing the age exemption for jury service from 70 to 73

This legislation from Sen. Emily Jordan, R-Isle of Wight, would increase the age at which a person is exempt from jury service from 70 to 73 years old.

Jordan told the Mercury the bill was brought at the request of the Virginia Court Clerks Association, which said the retirement age for judges in the commonwealth is 73 and therefore the maximum age for jury service should be the same.

The senator also pointed out jury trials have been increasing in Virginia following a bill passed in 2022 by former Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, which allowed criminal defendants to be sentenced by a jury rather than a judge.

This increase, Jordan said, means courts now need a larger pool of applicants for jurors.

“His bill really increased caseloads,” she said. “It’s kind of crazy.”

Jordan’s bill will be heard for the first time by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee later this month.

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