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900 new laws take effect

A number of new laws took effect Thursday within Virginia’s borders, including higher speed limits in some places, new seat belt requirements, more tax credits for expanding businesses and the film industry and expanded death penalty qualifications.

More than 900 new laws are now on the books, most of which were passed by the 2010 General Assembly session in January through March.

Speed limits on select stretches of highway throughout the state will increase from 65 to 70 miles per hour. Traffic engineering studies determined which areas were eligible. The first increase went into effect Thursday along Interstate 295 in Prince George County.

“The increase in the speed limit from 65 mph to 70 mph in rural and less populated areas of the state will help Virginians arrive at their destinations quicker, and safer,” Gov. Bob McDonnell said in a press release.

Virginia now joins 33 other states with a maximum speed of 70 mph in certain areas. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said the change would allow shorter commutes and more efficient movement of goods and services in the state.

Another new transportation measure requires children age 17 and younger to wear a seat belt in the back seat. The driver of a vehicle found with a violation faces a $25 fine. The previous law only required passengers under age 16 to be buckled up.

Those who drive without a valid driver’s license also now will face more consequences. Any person caught driving without a license who has previously been convicted of the same offense could lose his vehicle for three days, but can get it out of impoundment early if he obtains a valid driver’s license during that period.

A new economic law halves the minimum number of jobs a new facility must create to qualify for the Major Business Facility Job Tax Credit. Previously, new businesses had to create at least 100 qualified full-time jobs, but the threshold is now 50. In an economically distressed area, the threshold is 25.

Another economic measure provides a tax credit for film production companies that choose Virginia as a backdrop for their movies. Productions that reach qualifying expenses of at least $250,000 can get a refundable credit of 15 percent of the production’s qualifying expenses, or 20 percent if the production is filmed in an economically distressed area of the state.

A new public safety statute adds auxiliary police officers and auxiliary deputy sheriffs to the capital murder code, so that the death penalty can be imposed for their murder.

Virginia’s “Move Over” law also now is expanded. The law previously required drivers to change lanes or slow down when approaching an emergency vehicle on the side of the road, such as a police car, fire truck or ambulance. The code also now includes vehicles with amber lights, such as tow trucks and other motorist assistance vehicles.

For more information about new laws, visit the governor’s website at www.governor.virginia.gov.