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Skill games banished, absentee ballot signatures: Virginia laws taking effect Thursday

FILE -{ }Virginia electronic skill games (ABC13){ }
FILE - Virginia electronic skill games (ABC13)
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New laws are coming to the Commonwealth on July 1, 2021 -- and lawmakers were split on many of them.

The owner of Bikes Unlimited in Downtown Lynchburg says laws protecting the safety of bike riders is something he can always get behind.

"It's just raising awareness and helping people be aware that there's bikes out on the roads," says John Seinar.

RELATED: Defendants could see less jail time with new sentencing guidelines

Come July 1, a new Virginia law will require drivers to change lanes when passing bicyclists-- instead of just moving over.

And this isn't the only new law that might impact you.

Absentee ballots will no longer need a witness’ signature, but only during a public health emergency like COVID-19.

Democrats argue this will empower more people to vote.

RELATED: Marijuana, policing, death penalty, gun control: New laws take effect July 1 in Virginia.

"Some folks don't have the ability to get a witness for a signature," says Del. Chris Hurst of the 12th District. "I don't think just because we allow absentee voting to happen that we should presume that people are going to be voting fraudulently."

Republicans argue it will impact election integrity.

"That signature is so critical to make sure the people who says they're voting is actually voting," says Sen. Steve Newman of the 23rd District.

Something Republicans and Democrats alike strayed from party norms on: skill games.

"I went against the Democratic majority and the Democratic governor, and they will be banned effectively July 1," says Del. Hurst.

"I don't like them. I did not vote to approve them," says Republican Sen. Mark Peake of the 21st District.

RELATED: New vaccine requirements for your children in Virginia

These slot machine-like games flew under the radar for a long time-- which means local mom and pop shops got a lot of unregulated and untaxed money from them. But some lawmakers argued the machines were taking business away from the Virginia Lottery and that they posed a threat to the new casino industry.

"If casinos can have gambling, then these other single-owner stores ought to be able to do it," says Sen. Peake, even though he's not a huge fan of them.

There are many more laws we will see on July 1.

Beginning Thursday, Virginians over the age of 21 will be allowed to grow up to four marijuana plants in their home. The plants must not be accessible to minors. The plants also must not be visible from the road. Having less than an ounce of weed on your person will no longer be a misdemeanor charge. If you have more than an ounce, but less than a pound, you will get a $25 fine.

Lawmakers also voted to expand the Virginia Human Rights Act. This prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.

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You can view all the new laws passed by the General Assembly here.

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