New rules

Published 8:31 pm Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Virginia lawmakers have been known to enact a few doozies over the years, but we see little to dislike in the list of new laws that took effect Wednesday.

July 1 is a popular effective date for laws passed during the General Assembly’s annual regular session. The new rules give enforcers a few more things to watch out for as Independence Day approaches.

Here are some that make good sense to us:

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A ban on sending text messages or e-mails while driving. The texting ban is a secondary offense, meaning that individuals can be cited only after being stopped by police for another infraction. The fine is $20 for a first offense and $50 for second and subsequent violations.

Allowing voters to wear political T-shirts, buttons or other apparel to the polls. The notion that a single voter could improperly influence other voters by simply showing his allegiance to a candidate is silly. The state Board of Elections had grossly overreached in its interpretation of another state law that outlaws electioneering within 40 feet of the polling place. Lawmakers restored some common sense with the law that took effect Wednesday.

Allowing courts to suspend the driver’s licenses of teenagers who miss 10 straight days of school. Driving is a privilege, not a right, and it’s reasonable to deny truants that privilege.

Imposition of a 10 percent tax on pay-per-view movies in Virginia hotel rooms, with part of the proceeds going to provide incentives to filmmakers to shoot movies in the state. We’re not crazy about taxes, but so-called “luxury” taxes or “sin” taxes (an in-room movie could be considered either) are the least offensive.

Tougher laws targeting drunken drivers. One new law says that a driver who is caught driving drunk twice in a 10-year period must have an ignition interlock installed in his vehicle. That gadget prevents a car from being started when an intoxicated driver breathes into it. The time period previously was five years. A second, related law establishes driving without a required ignition interlock as a Class 1 misdemeanor offense and calls for offenders to lose their license for a year.