New Virginia Laws Address Vicious Dogs, Underage Drinking

July 5, 2006

Owners of dangerous dogs face tougher penalties and adults who serve booze to underage guests are targeted under new state laws taking effect in Virginia.

Although the 2006 General Assembly was dominated by a budget impasse that pushed the state to the brink of a constitutional crisis, legislators also passed hundreds of measures that could affect the everyday lives of at least some Virginians. Most of the 943 bills passed and signed into law by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine took effect July 1.

The dog-mauling death of 82-year-old widow Dorothy Sullivan prompted one of the session’s most high-profile initiatives, legislation imposing tough penalties on the owners of dogs that seriously injure others.

Sullivan was attacked by three roaming pit bulls while walking her Shih Tzu, Buttons, in her rural Spotsylvania County front yard in March 2005. Buttons also was killed in the attack, which sparked outrage in the community.

The victim’s family collected thousands of signatures on a petition supporting stricter laws and sat through hours of sometimes-emotional legislative hearings on competing bills addressing the problem. Lawmakers eventually approved legislation to make a felony certain dog attacks that result in serious injury, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

Deanna Large, owner of the pit bulls that attacked Sullivan, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to three years in prison, even though the tougher law dealing explicitly with dog attacks was not yet on the books.

Also starting Saturday, it will be illegal for Virginians to serve alcoholic beverages to guests under age 21 unless those guests are accompanied by a parent, guardian or spouse 21 or older. Previously, there was no law specifically prohibiting residents from serving alcohol to teenage guests in private homes.

“This needed, new law not only closes a loophole in Virginia law but also, hopefully, the door to the high school graduation kegger,” said Kurt Gregory Erickson, president of the McLean-based Washington Regional Alcohol Program.

Also taking effect are new laws suspending the driver’s license of adults to illegally provide booze to teens and requiring a six-month minimum license suspension for anyone convicted of underage possession or consumption of alcohol.

People who sell phony, worthless international driver’s licenses will be subject to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine starting Saturday. A new law making it a misdemeanor to sell, give or distribute any document purporting to be a driver’s license is intended to strengthen existing restrictions on producing bogus licenses.

The law targets people who sell the counterfeit licenses to unsuspecting immigrants, who can obtain an authentic International Driver’s Permit from AAA Mid-Atlantic or the American Automobile Touring Alliance.

“This new law protects all potential buyers by severely punishing a business practice that takes advantage of new residents unaware of the laws of their new state of residence,” said Michael Zajur, president and CEO of the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Sex offenders also will face tougher punishment and more intensive monitoring after their release from prison. Among the changes taking effect this month is a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years for offenders who commit certain violent sex crimes against children younger than 13. Perpetrators of such crimes previously faced five years to life in prison.

The legislation imposing the harsher penalty was modeled after Jessica’s Law, named in memory of Jessica Lunsford, the 9-year-old Florida girl who was allegedly kidnapped and slain by a convicted sex offender last year.

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