This year the House of Delegates and Senate introduced nearly 2,700 bills and passed 368. On Wednesday, a large portion of the 328 bills signed into law by Gov. Martin J. O’Malley will take effect.
The most controversial of these will make possessing a small amount of marijuana — less than 10 grams or about one-third of an ounce — punishable by a civil citation for the first offense rather than a criminal penalty.
Fines for the violation range from $100 to $500, depending on the number of violations. Persons cited under the new law would only be required to appear in court if they are under 21 years old or after receiving a third citation. Fines collected under the new law would be used to pay for drug treatment and education programs.
To prepare for the changes, the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention has teamed up with the Maryland State’s Attorneys Association to train police departments.
Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott B. Shellenberger said the new law still leaves room for interpretation, and some of those interpretations will ultimately be sorted out by the courts.
In Baltimore County and other jurisdictions, police departments are still being told that marijuana is considered contraband and would allow for searches. Other agencies have decided to not have the substance tested by chemists and rely on the officer’s knowledge, training and experience if the citation were to go to court.
“Clearly the courts are going to tell us if we’re doing it right,” Shellenberger said. “Someone is going to file an appeal on either a search they didn’t like or a civil finding.”
Shellenberger said there is already a move afoot by some state’s attorneys and law enforcement to return to Annapolis next year “to try to make the law a little better.”
Other new laws of note:
- Laws governing lobbyists will get a little stricter. First, registered lobbyists will be required to complete an online ethics training within six months of registering with the state and to retake that training every two years. Failure to comply could result in a $5,000 fine and suspension of the lobbyist’s registration.
- Public officials and lobbyists will also be subject to increased fines for failing to file annual financial disclosures on time. Late fees for public officials who file late will increase from $2 to $5 for each day after the deadline and maximum late fees increase from $200 to $250. Lobbyists will continue to pay $10 per day for each day they fail to file but the maximum late fee increases from $250 to $1,000.
- A third law will require that public officials file their annual disclosure forms electronically.
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said the changes, while not headline-grabbing, are important.
“They streamline the system and increase the penalties,” said Bevan-Dangel. “It’s a little bit of a carrot and a little bit of a stick.”
- Police officers will be able to use secure fax and e-mail to apply for and receive search warrants and judges will be authorized to use phone and video communication to interview officers seeking those warrants.
- Maryland residents of a certain age may remember their very first job and needing a parent to fill out and sign a work permit. A new law effective Wednesday will now allow parents and their children to apply online to the state labor commission for that same permit. Since 1991, the state has not enforced child labor laws and instead refers complaints to the federal government. The agency issued 42,000 work permits to minors in 2012 and has received no complaints related to underage employment.
- Another new state law will eliminate the Worcester County Bingo Board. The three-member board, which was appointed by the governor with consent from the Senate, was charged with approving applications for local organizations to hold bingo games. Last year, the board approved 6 annual and 30 temporary licenses. The members were paid $1,000 annually. Currently, only one of the positions is filled. The county Department of Development Review and Permitting will be responsible for approving the licenses on Oct. 1.