There are several new laws approved by the Maryland General Assembly which went into effect on October 1, 2017. Here’s a brief overview of several of the hot ticket agenda items.
In the field of education, the four laws that take effect mostly revolve around ensuring the safety of students, faculty and staff at institutions from K-12 through university. HB1145, known as the school whistleblower law, prohibits an employer from either engaging in or refusing to take retaliatory action against a public school employee due to the employee’s disclosure or threat of disclosure of a policy that may violate a particular law or regulation of rule. HB669 gives respective county boards of education the authority to establish a two-way electronic tip program for students, parents, guardians, family friends, and school staff in order to report cases of harassment, bullying and intimidation. SB1191 empowers the Maryland Center for School Safety to create and issue grants to at-risk childcare centers and schools to bolster security through special projects. Lastly, HB950 strengthens drug recovery efforts at University System of Maryland institutions by requiring the Boards of Regents to establish criteria and standards for addiction recovery programming.
Several laws effect Maryland motorists such as HB11, which prohibits the practice of “coal rolling,” or, the removal of emission-controlling parts of the engine to emit extra smoke. Because of this, diesel-powered vehicles emit clouds of smoke, or exhaust emissions, onto another person.
Three new pieces of legislation will expand rights for survivors of sexual assault and harassment were implemented on October 1. These laws include: SB349/HB225, SB217/HB429, and SB944/HB647. SB349/HB225 mandates child advocacy centers and hospitals to provide law enforcement rape kits within thirty days of the victim’s examination. Furthermore, this law prohibits police from destroying or disposing of sexual assault evidence for twenty years. SB217/HB429 or, “No Means No,” eliminates the need for evidence of physical resistance by victims of a sex crime to establish proof. SB944/HB647 reforms the classifications of sexual offenses, reclassifying offenses in the first and second degree as rape in each respective degree.
Delegate C.T Wilson, a child abuse survivor, introduced HB642/SB505 which extends the age for which victims of child sexual abuse can file a civil lawsuit against their alleged abusers from age 25 to the age of 38. Furthermore, HB1263/SB996 alters the definition of “abuse” as the intended physical or mental injury of a child by a person who exercises circumstantial authority over the child.
The state of Maryland passed an ethics reform law that will more carefully explain and define a conflict of interest, providing clarification of when state officials need to recuse or keep themselves from businesses with interests before them. Furthermore, it broadens the law’s definition of a “close economic association,” to include an association between a legislator and an entity with which the lawmaker is discussing employment and/or arranging possible employment. Lastly, the new reform establishes a citizens’ advisory board to provide recommendations to the legislature’s board of ethics regarding changes to public ethics law. The law was passed with broad bi-partisan support.
HB1325 establishes a ban of fracking. Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. The bill passed the Maryland State Senate by a vote of 35-10 on March 27, 2017. With the passing and implementation of this law, Maryland became the second state to ban fracking. Senator George Edwards, a Western Maryland Republican, was opposed to the ban, stating that he supported an “all of the above” approach to energy production. Another opponent of the bill was Drew Cobbs, director of the Maryland Petroleum Council. In a prepared statement, Cobbs expressed that, “this politically motivated decision moves Maryland further away from the state’s economic and environmental goals.” Josh Tulkin, director of Maryland’s Sierra Club, reveled in the passage of the legislation, calling the ban “a major step for Maryland’s path to a clean energy economy.”
“Keep Antibiotics Safe Act of 2017”
SB422/HB602, entitled the “Keep Antibiotics Safe Act of 2017” outlaws the practice of administering antibiotics to poultry, swine and cattle. Maryland became the second state to ban such practice.
Public Health – Essential Off-Patent or Generic Drugs – Price Gouging – Prohibition
SB0415/HB0631 prohibits wholesale distributors and manufacturers from “price-gouging” or, drastically increasing prices of “essential generic drugs.” This practice in the pharmaceutical industry usually takes place when there is no alternative drug that can be purchased, creating low incentive to lower prices due to lack of competition from other drug manufacturing companies. It authorizes the state Attorney General to sue drug companies who engage in such practices. One of the most high profile instances of price gouging was in the case of former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli, who infamously raised the price of Daraprim, a life-saving drug, by an unprecedented 5,000%. The price per pill increased from $13.50 to $750, and a full bottle typically priced at $1,700 skyrocketed to $75,000. This law goes into effect during a tumultuous partisan fight over the state of healthcare and the federal government’s role in providing affordable healthcare. According to Time, the average annual retail price of drugs was over $11,000 in 2013 for a patient who has prescriptions for a chronic illness. That total was “almost three-quarters of the average Social Security retirement benefit ($15, 526),” and nearly half the median income of someone on Medicare ($23,500). To put things into perspective, an alarming twenty percent of Americans who take prescription drugs have disclosed that either they or a family member have skipped their intake or broke their pills in half due to the high prices.
The Justice Reinvestment Act
Amongst the more progressive pieces of new legislation is the Justice Reinvestment Act. This law seeks to reduce the prison population in the state by mandating the Division of Parole and Probation to conduct risk evaluations on inmates and seeks to reduce recidivism rates by implementing plans for inmates’ rehabilitation. Furthermore, it reduces sentences for specific nonviolent offenses, however, increases penalties for gang-affiliated offenses. The law also greatly increases the amount of expungable offenses. State Senator Robert A. Zirkin, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee referred to the bill as “the single largest expansion of expungement possibly in this state’s history.” Maryland became the 30th state to pursue such an endeavor. One major topic of debate over the last decade has been the push for the decriminalization of marijuana. The state of Maryland decriminalized certain amounts of marijuana in 2014; however, there is still much work to be done in order to address the sentencing disparities that are responsible for the many inmates still serving out their original sentences under outdated laws. As of October 1, the waiting period for people to request expungement of possession of marijuana from their records will be reduced from ten years after conviction to four years. According to an inmate census conducted by the Bureau of Justice in May of 2005, the state of Maryland had a total of 35,601 inmates and an incarceration rate of 221 for every 100,000 residents of the state. Such strides coincide with the efforts made by the Obama administration to address the alarming incarceration rate in the United States of America. In 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law, the “Fair Sentencing Act,” which reduces the disparity in the amounts of powder cocaine and crack cocaine required for the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences. Such efforts slightly nudge the nation into the right direction, helping us slowly progress towards removing our designation as the world leader in prison population. This law helps to reiterate our pledge to equipping those who have paid their debt to society with the tools and resources they need to reestablish themselves and live a productive, meaningful and crime-free post-prison life.
“Amber’s Law,” named after domestic violence victim Amber Schinault, gives victims of domestic violence the option of submitting a request to judges to implement GPS tracking in conjunction with a restraining order in order to monitor offenders. Amber Schinault, the law’s namesake, was tragically murdered by her boyfriend in 2012 after she ended their relationship. Ms. Shinault was one of twenty-two people killed that year as the result of a domestic dispute. Two years before her death, the Maryland House of Delegates struck down a similar measure to require GPS-tracking of domestic violence offenders, which would have alerted the victim and law enforcement if the offender entered a restricted area. It is well documented that a restraining order may not often be enough of a deterrent for someone who wishes to do harm to a significant other. Passing this law doesn’t solve all the problems associated with domestic violence and doesn’t offer up any guarantees; however, it is a step in the right direction and does help to protect those who have come forward. Moreover, this law could serve as encouragement for a domestic violence victim to come forth that may be currently suffering in silence out of fear of retaliation.
You can view a list of laws and regulations that went into effect on Oct 1st by clicking here.