The fruits of the General Assembly’s 2014 session will come into full effect on Oct. 1 as a number of bills passed in the spring become law in Maryland.
In Gov. Martin O’Malley’s last legislative session, lawmakers passed a wide range of laws, from expansion of civil rights to opening up funeral operators to surprise inspections.
Transgender Marylanders will be protected from discrimination as the Senate passed the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, which prohibits discrimination against gender-identifying individuals in housing, labor and other public places such as restaurants and hotels.
The law exempts religious organizations and educational institutions, and owner-occupied rentals with five units or fewer. The new law also does not apply to locker rooms, where people are expected to publicly disrobe.
Maryland will join at least 17 other states and the District of Columbia in prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity, according to the policy note attached to the bill. Some local jurisdictions in Maryland such as Baltimore had already passed laws against gender identity discrimination.
The governor’s environmental agenda was bolstered by the expansion of the state’s wildlands areas. Fourteen existing areas are set for expansion and another nine new areas will be added, increasing acreage from approximately 44,000 to 65,887.
The last time the state added new wildlands areas was in 2002, when the Department of Natural Resources designated 4,361 acres in Garrett County.
Since then, the Department of Natural Resources has conducted studies and acquired new land, which has resulted the single largest expansion of wildlands since the introduction of the Maryland Wildlands Act in 1971.
John S. Wilson, associate director for stewardship with land acquisition and planning at the state’s Department of Natural Resources, said that the aim of the wildlands is to return them to their original state before or just after European settlement. Hikers and horseback riders are permitted to use the land, but mountain bikes and motorized vehicles are not.
“It goes to when the country was wild and how did these folks get around? They got around on foot and they got around on horses,” he said.
Those concerned about the care of their remains once in the hands of funeral homes can rest easy as of Oct. 1 when the State Board of Morticians and Funeral Directors will become authorized to conduct unannounced inspections of body preparation and storage areas without being accompanied by a licensee employed by the funeral establishment.
Ruth Ann Arty, executive director of the State Board of Morticians and Funeral Directors, said that not only was the board looking to ensure properly licensed practices, dignity and public health, but also wanted to be more in line with other types of health inspections in the state.
The new unannounced inspections may only be conducted when a provider is under probation or has received a complaint. Arty said that the board advocated for these conditions to protect members who do business ethically.
The state is also expanding its 2010 move-over law that requires drivers to either move over into the next lane if safe or slow down when they see emergency vehicles on the state’s roads. Starting Oct. 1, drivers will also have to move over for tow trucks.
“When the fire service is on the side of the road, we’re just hoping and praying to be safe on the side of the road,” said Del. James E. Malone Jr., D-Baltimore County and Howard County. Malone has been an active firefighter for 40 years and sponsored the bill expanding the move-over law.
Although a large number of bills come into effect on Oct. 1, several others became law over the summer and during the legislative session.
Dog owners will be held liable for bite injuries, but will have the opportunity to challenge the liability in court before a jury. The emergency bill – enacted when it passed in April – was a response to a 2012 court ruling that pit bulls are inherently dangerous. The law imposes liability regardless of breed.
Free pre-kindergarten education will become available to an additional 1,600 Maryland children under an expansion of the 2002 Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act. The state is lifting the income-eligibility cap from 185 to 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. The increase will cost the state $4.3 million in fiscal 2015.
And the Department of Natural Resources is authorizing archery hunting of deer on select Sundays during the October to January hunting season.
Sunday hunting will only be allowed in Allegany, Garrett, Frederick and Washington counties, said Paul Peditto, director of wildlife services with the Department of Natural Resources.
Peditto added that hunters will also be allowed to use bows and firearms to hunt small game such as grouse and squirrels beginning no later than Dec. 22. The season is likely to be quite short because by mid-January hunters are effectively foreclosed from those areas due to snow coverage.
Peditto said that the hunting demographic is mostly blue collar workers who make a living Mondays through Saturdays and have welcomed the opportunity to hunt on Sundays.
There may also be an economic benefit to the state as hunters Pennsylvania, where Sunday hunting is now allowed, come to Maryland for a weekend of hunting.
“Seventy five percent of non-resident deer hunters are from Pennsylvania,” Peditto said.
The state’s increased tax credits and rebates for electric vehicles went into effect July 1. It gives new electric-car buyers $125 per kilowatt-hour of the battery capacity or $3,000, whichever is less.
The bill also replaced the recharging-equipment tax credit with a new rebate. Individuals, businesses and retail gas-stations can claim back 50 percent of the total cost of installing recharging equipment with a maximum of $900, $5,000 and $7,500 respectively.
By Lejla Sarcevic