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The Associated Press June 30, 2010, 5:41PM ET

New laws: Higher speeds on freeways, guns in bars

Increased speed limits, the right to fly the American flag and the ability to walk into a bar with a concealed handgun are among 561 new laws that go into effect on Thursday.

It's also the same day a new pared-down two-year $31.4 billion general fund operating state budget takes effect, resulting in millions of dollars in cuts to state services and to cities, counties and towns statewide. The general fund budget is about $3 billion less than what it was for the 2007-2008 biennium.

Few new laws got as much scrutiny or partisan wrangling as the guns-in-bars statute. It allows holders of concealed weapons permits to take their firearms into places where alcohol is served, provided the gun's bearer doesn't imbibe.

Detractors warned the legislation would turn the neighborhood watering hole into the scene of bloody gunplay. Supporters countered the law only gives law-abiding gun owners the same advantage that armed thugs who defy the law already have.

Similar bills had made it through the legislature before, only to have then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, veto them. But with freshly inaugurated Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell in office, the measure passed again last winter.

So did an unusually high number of measures that make guns easier to buy and carry.

Other new laws eliminate the penalty for transporting a firearm secured in a vehicle's locked compartment, allow for the renewal of concealed firearms permits by mail, and require court clerks to immediately notify those denied a concealed handgun permit of the right to appeal.

One bill with backing from the gun-rights lobby that failed would have repealed Virginia's one handgun-per-month purchase limit.

A gun restriction law also takes effect. It disqualifies anyone with a drunken driving conviction in another state from obtaining a Virginia concealed handgun permit.

A 27-mile stretch of Interstate 295 will be the first section of interstate where motorists will be able to go 70 mph. The stretch runs east of Richmond to I-295's southern intersection with I-95 near Petersburg.

Others sections may follow, said Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman Jeff Caldwell.

There are 741 miles of interstate eligible for study for higher speeds depending on analyses of road characteristics, prevailing traffic speeds and crash data, he said.

And watch out on those new 70 mph stretches. State troopers and other police agencies won't be as forgiving of people exceeding the higher posted speed.

The law also reduces to just 11 mph the margin between the legal speed limit and a reckless driving citation with a mandatory court appearance, prohibitive fines and possible jail time. State law defines any driver going 81 mph or more as reckless.

Schools in Virginia may start earlier under a law that gives the state Board of Education the authority to waive the requirement that the school year can't start until after Labor Day. The bill passed despite concerns from major tourism areas that rely on school-age workers to see them through vacation season.

Other measures going into effect Thursday include:

--People who work for public transit services could be subjected to fingerprinting or criminal background checks under one new law.

--Lifetime hunting and fishing licenses will be available for the first time for infants in Virginia.

--Condominium and neighborhood property owners' associations will not be able to restrict the display of the American flag by their residents.

--The death penalty expands to include individuals convicted of murder in the deaths of auxiliary police officers, deputy sheriffs and fire marshals.

--The Governor's Opportunity Fund was bolstered, and there are new incentives McDonnell can offer Hollywood companies to film in Virginia.

--Localities get the authority to prohibit the distribution of handbills and fliers in street and highway medians or on public roadways.

--And, just in time for July 4th fireworks, another law requires that pyrotechnicians and professional fireworks operators be certified.

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