ANNAPOLIS – New laws now in Maryland have implemented police and criminal justice reforms, tackle early voting, and strengthen protections for LGBTQ + people.
Police reforms include greater transparency of police conduct records and independent investigations into deaths in custody. New criminal justice laws prohibit life sentences without parole for juveniles tried as adults and decrease sentences if those incarcerated continue their education. LGBTQ + protection laws include gender identity in state hate crime cases and eliminate discovery of a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation as a defense in court .
Elsewhere in the new measures, which took effect Oct. 1, it’s illegal for adults to drop balloons and veterans can adopt a new pet at no cost.
No-knocking warrants and police misconduct records – Anton’s Law (SB178) – This new law imposes restrictions on the use of no-strike warrants, in particular by limiting them to daylight hours. The law also makes most police misconduct records available for public information law requests.
Police data (HB1248) – Starting in March, local law enforcement agencies are required to report annually on use of force incidents involving a police officer and resulting in a monetary settlement or judgment against the agency. Agencies must report the age, gender, ethnicity and race of everyone involved – including the police officer – to the governor’s office of crime prevention, youth and victim services, who will share the information publicly.
Police Sexual Activity and Open Files (SB43) – A new law expands the group of people with whom law enforcement officers are not allowed to have sex. The policy adds victims, suspects and witnesses in an officer’s open cases to existing law, which prohibited sexual relations with those in the officer’s custody.
Automatic deregistration (SB 201) – Any police or court record of a three-year-old civil or criminal charge that has been acquitted, dismissed, or resulted in a not guilty verdict will automatically be erased by the courts of Maryland. Before this law, defendants had to apply for expungement, and many never did, according to the data – now they will be notified by mail that the job is done. It is estimated that this process saves courts 75 minutes per case, but may require the hiring of new court clerks.
Shortened sentences for continuing education (HB89) – Prisoners may have their sentences reduced for having continued their studies. A new law shortens a person’s sentence by 60 days if they obtain a diploma or certificate, but only if they have not been convicted of certain violent crimes.
Juvenile sexting (HB180) – Juvenile courts will treat consensual youth sexting cases – where the age difference between sender and recipient is less than four years – differently from child pornography cases. Instead of sending children to community detention for sexting, courts can order these children to participate in an educational program on the risks and consequences of sexting.
Reduction of life sentences for minors (SB 494) – Maryland courts are prohibited from giving a life sentence to a minor tried as an adult without the possibility of parole. A juvenile found guilty of an offense committed by an adult can apply for a reduction of a life sentence and the court must hold a hearing.
Access for victims of crime to private rooms (HB193) – The law requires law enforcement to allow victims of violent crime access to a private room when they report a crime against someone. Victim reports identify a crime that causes injury to a person.
Free Online Child Abuse Course (HB9) – A new law requires that child abuse education classes be posted on the Maryland Department of Human Services website. This course offers tips on how to identify and report child abuse.
Gender identity as sexual orientation (SB220 / HB128) – This new law includes “gender identity” as a characteristic of sexual orientation in hate crime cases. Gender identity is defined as the gender identity, appearance, expression or behavior of a person, regardless of the sex assigned to the person at birth, according to a 2015 law of the ‘State of Maryland.
Elimination of “Gay-Trans Panic Defense” (HB231 / SB046) – The law prohibits the discovery or perception of a person’s national origin, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation as a ground for changing the sentence from murder to manslaughter. This bill overturns the “gay-trans panic defense,” which says it was the discovery of the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity that caused the murder and, in turn, turns murder into manslaughter.
Commission on LGBTQ Affairs (HB 130) – Establishes a commission on LGBTQ affairs within the governor’s office for community initiatives. The commission will be responsible for producing an annual report containing policy recommendations to end discriminatory practices against LGBTQ adults and youth.
Mental health for veterans (HB 605 / SB164) – Mandates the Maryland Department of Health to provide mental health services to veterans who meet criteria set by Maryland Behavioral Health Services. Creates a mental health education program that helps veterans and their families recognize and respond to signs of mental illness and addiction.
Pet Adoption for Veterans (HB 563 / SB338) – Veterans can adopt a pet without paying an adoption fee. The policy requires that public animal shelters allow a veteran to adopt a cat and dog every six months at no cost.
Drug sales by vending machine (HB107 / SB499) – People are no longer prohibited from disposing of, selling or distributing medicines through vending machines or similar devices. This includes over the counter drugs and some prescription drugs.
Least Cost Drug Option (SB 537) – Pharmacists are required to inform consumers about a lower cost drug alternative to their prescribed drugs or medical devices. Pharmacists will also document that a patient has been notified in writing or verbally of the equivalency of the drug.
Racial / Ethnic Data Collection (HB 309 / SB565) – Maryland will begin collecting racial and ethnic data on all licensed or certified health workers. The data will be compared to the state’s racial distribution and published in an updated bulletin every six months. Previously, data on racial distribution was only collected from registered physicians.
Mental health facilities and sexual abuse reporting (HB 881) – All residential treatment facilities in Maryland must report cases of sexual abuse no later than 24 hours after receiving the complaint. Cases can be reported to the Behavioral Health Administration, the Office of Health Care Quality, or child protection services. Currently, reports of sexual abuse must be reported, but the new law will add a deadline to discourage organizations from processing reports internally. The bill will require the Behavioral Health Administration to develop training for staff to help patients file complaints and teach them to identify sexual abuse.
Early polling stations (HB 206 / SB 596) – This new law requires that early voting centers be open between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. for each day of early voting for general presidential elections. For all other primary and general elections, early voting centers must be open during the hours of 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Additional Early Polling Centers (HB 745) – Maryland will allow additional early voting centers in certain counties, depending on accessibility to minority groups, proximity to dense concentrations of voters, and accessibility by public transportation to ensure an even distribution of the vote anticipated and maximize participation.
Balloon release ban (HB391 / SB716) – This measure prohibits anyone over the age of 13 from intentionally releasing a balloon into the atmosphere and from organizing a mass release of 10 or more balloons. Violators can be fined $ 100 and are required to perform community service and / or watch an educational video. The bill aims to reduce the environmental damage caused by the release of balloons.
Cybersecurity (SB049 / HB038) – Requires the Secretary of Information Technology to advise legislative and judicial branches of state government on the status of cybersecurity software and ransomware, with few exceptions. The bill was developed in response to a growing number of ransomware attacks, data breaches, and other cyber attacks in 2019 and 2020.
Affordable Student Home Loans (SB637) – Enables a faction of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to help current students or recent graduates of state four-year colleges and universities obtain low-interest home loans to buy homes at proximity to their respective schools.
Flower Branch Act – gas service regulators (HB 345) – This law requires gas service providers to install new or replaced gas service regulators outside residential buildings and to file a plan to this effect with the Civil Service Commission. The new law is named after the Apartments in Flower Branch where, in 2016, an unventilated mercury service regulator led to a natural gas explosion that killed seven people.
Establishment of the Governor’s Office for Immigration Affairs (HB15 / SB85) – A new office will establish service centers for neighborhoods with high immigrant density, which will cost more than $ 320,000 statewide in the first year. The publicly funded centers are responsible for promoting English language programs, enhancing access to career options, and facilitating pathways to citizenship. The office will also set up a multilingual hotline and website to help with these services, as well as to report crime and fraud; local centers should use these reports to help fight immigrant crime.
Reporting for Capital News Service were Trisha Ahmed, Alex Argiris, AR Cabral, Rachel Logan, Allison Mollenkamp, Bethan Probst, Alexandra Radovic and Catherine Wilson.