New Maryland laws take effect Thursday

Drivers, gun owners among those affected

Judges will have broader authority to take guns away from the subjects of domestic violence orders starting today, under a pair of laws that are among several new statutes officials hope will make the state safer.

Dozens of laws approved by the General Assembly and signed by the governor earlier this year take effect today. The new laws also include sweeping environmental policy changes and an increase in weekly unemployment benefits to a maximum of $410 starting next week.

Many of the public safety measures are aimed at drivers. It is now a crime to send text messages while behind the wheel. Drunken drivers face stiffer penalties. Teenagers will have to wait longer to obtain a driver’s license. And all drivers will be under increased scrutiny with the legalization of speed cameras statewide.“Generally these laws are going to go a long way to making Maryland a safer state,” said Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who championed the domestic violence legislation after his cousin was killed in a domestic assault.

Also taking effect today is a climate-change measure aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions that takes effect in Maryland as the debate on global warming continues in Washington. Several U.S. senators unveiled a proposed climate bill Wednesday.

Mike Tidwell of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network called Maryland’s law requiring a 25 percent cut in greenhouse gases by 2020 “the strongest statewide carbon reduction target in America.” He said the legislation being debated in Congress is less ambitious than Maryland’s but would apply to manufacturers that were exempted in the state bill.

Other new environmental policies aimed at reducing pollution in the Chesapeake Bay require homeowners to install nitrogen-removing septic systems and prohibit the sale of lawn fertilizer with a certain amount of phosphorus.

The increase in unemployment benefits is one of several affecting the workplace. Another bill cracks down on employers misclassifying workers as “independent contractors” to avoid paying taxes, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation premiums.

Other criminal laws being added to the books include evidentiary restrictions on when prosecutors can seek the death penalty and new protections for the homeless and disabled under the hate crime statute. Gov. Martin O’Malley had sought a full repeal of capital punishment, but lawmakers agreed only to limit it.

The rules of the road were among the most altered areas of law this year.

In addition to the widely publicized texting ban, teens won’t be able to obtain a driver’s license until age 18, or three months later than previously allowed, and they now must be 16 ¿ years old to get a provisional license. New drunken-driving laws aimed at repeat offenders include a mandatory one-year license suspension for those with two arrests within five years.

Another state law allows local governments to put speed cameras near schools or work zones. Officials highlighted the law Wednesday at a news conference overlooking the construction site where workers are building the interchange of Interstate 95 and the Intercounty Connector.

State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen said speed cameras would be up and running at the site today, issuing warnings to violators who go more than 12 mph above the posted speed limit. The law grants a 30-day warning period before $40 fines can be imposed.

The ICC site is one of three large-project work zones where the state is initially deploying speed cameras. The others are at the Beltway and Charles Street, the site of a bridge replacement project, and the express toll lane project on Interstate 95 between I-895 and White Marsh Boulevard.

Among the new laws taking effect today:

  • New judicial authority to confiscate guns from domestic abusers
  • An increase in unemployment benefits
  • Ban on texting while driving
  • Authorization of speed cameras
  • Bill raising age at which teens can get a driver’s license
  • Restrictions on when prosecutors can seek the death penalty
  • Legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent

Source:  Baltimore Sun, Laura Smitherman & Michael Dresser (10/1/2009)


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