A Look at Bills Approved by Maryland Lawmakers - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

A Look at Bills Approved by Maryland Lawmakers


Here's a look at legislation approved by the Maryland General Assembly, which adjourned at midnight:


Maryland's $13.2 billion operating budget relies on a mix of cuts, one-time spending transfers from reserve accounts and federal stimulus money to close a $2 billion gap. The budget, which includes large cuts in funding to local governments for road repairs, will have a balance of $195 million, in addition to $633 million in the state's Rainy Day Fund.


The General Assembly has passed a ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving, a bill Gov. Martin O'Malley has indicated he will sign. Maryland drivers will have to use handsfree devices to talk on cell phones. Drivers could be fined $40 for first violations and $100 for subsequent ones. Drivers could only be pulled over if they are committing another offense as well, such as running a stop light.


Child support payment guidelines will be changed for the first time in more than 20 years. The guidelines, which will go into effect in October, will raise the scale for payments based on combined monthly income between parents from $10,000 under current law to $15,000.


Lawmakers have sent O'Malley legislation to create civil penalties for people who make false health claims to help the state recover millions of dollars for health care. The state estimates about $20 million in Medicaid could be recovered a year with the help of the legislation, which aims to stop fraudulent practices such as an insurance company filling out a form for a wheelchair for a fictitious patient.


Mediation between borrowers facing foreclosures and their mortgage lenders will be required by law, if the borrower asks for mediation. Legislation includes a $300 filing fee from lenders filing a foreclosure action to help pay for mediations.


Legislation to make it easier to prosecute gang members and stiffen penalties against them was approved, in a move to close loopholes in the Gang Prosecution Act of 2007. The current law has resulted in only one guilty plea and not one conviction by a jury in nearly three years. The bill adds crimes that would make gang members eligible for stronger penalties, including witness intimidation and second-degree assault.


Maryland educators and law enforcement will be required to report to school personnel the arrests of students for certain offenses to increase awareness about students committing crimes that could indicate gang membership. The measure was brought forward after a 14-year-old Crofton boy was beaten to death last year in an allegedly gang-related incident.


O'Malley already has signed into law the main portions of his job creation initiative. It includes a $5,000 tax credit for Maryland employers who hire an unemployed resident that O'Malley included $20 million in the budget to fund.


Maryland utilities will have to increase the amount of solar energy they buy and pay fees for not complying. The General Assembly scaled back amounts of solar energy required to be purchased and the amount of fees initially approved. It's estimated the law will increase residential electricity bills by 5 cents per month next year and 66 cents per month for the average commercial ratepayer. The amount goes up each year, resulting in an increase of 77 cents per month for residents and $9.57 for commercial ratepayers in 2016.


Lawmakers have approved legislation to require lifetime supervision of some people convicted of the most severe sex crimes.


Legislators decided on a mandatory 15-year prison sentence for people who commit more serious sex offenses or rape against a child, instead of a five-year sentence under current law.


Lawmakers agreed on legislation that would bring Maryland into compliance with the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, which creates minimum standards for sex offender registration.


A bill to reform the state's Sexual Offender Advisory Board to ensure its members have skills needed to certify programs has been approved.


Legislation to eliminate the possibility of reduced prison sentences for good behavior for violent and repeat sex offenders also has been approved.


Lawmakers endorsed changing the state's slots machine policy to entice a bidder to a western Maryland location. It would give any bidders for an Allegany County slots license 35.5 percent of the gaming revenues for five years, instead of 33 percent, if they agree to buy the troubled Rocky Gap Lodge and Resort.


O'Malley has signed legislation to change unemployment insurance laws to enable Maryland to secure about $127 million in federal stimulus money. The measure allows businesses to spread out payments to Maryland's unemployment compensation fund and lower the interest rates for late payments in 2010 and 2011. It also decreases benefits for some workers, but increases benefits for others, including people seeking job training while unemployed.


Sixteen-year-olds will be able to register to vote when they get their driver's license or at another registration location. Youth still won't be able to vote in a general or special election until they are 18-years-old.


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