Maryland lawmakers endorsed most of Gov. Martin O'Malley's (D) fairly ambitious agenda as they wrapped up the state's 428th legislative session this month.
O'Malley signed 163 bills into law, among them the alcohol tax law, and a law which bars employers from using a job applicant's credit history in the hiring or promotion process. Credit reports are also now off the table for assessing a current employee's compensation or other employment privileges. The law makes exceptions for certain positions, such as those requiring the handling of money.
Also signed into law and effective October 11, 2011 was legislation extending compensability under workers' compensation laws to Anne Arundel County deputy sheriffs suffering from an occupational disease - specifically heart disease or hypertension (high blood pressure) - in the line of duty. Proposed by Teamsters Local 355 and deputy sheriff Dave Belisle, and introduced to the Legislature by Delegate Robert Costa (District 33B), the law will provide the same benefit to the county's deputy sheriff's as it does for other state counties public law enforcement personnel. (More on this in the next newsletter.)
Proposed right-to-work legislation didn't survive committee hearings that were heavily attended by Labor advocates and members – including representatives from Teamsters Joint Council 62.
Alcohol Tax: Unfortunately, effective in July we'll see the tax on beer, wine and spirits rise for the first time since 1972. The revenue from the tax will go to education aid, the developmentally disabled and school construction in the biggest counties. That's the good news. As to the bad news, we'll just have to wait to see how the tax increase affects tour alcohol distribution employers' bottom line.
Health Care: Also at the top of O'Malley's list was a pair of bills that will make the Old Line State the third in the country to create a health care exchange in line with the requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA). Maryland follows California and West Virginia in creating the exchanges, which are intended to offer consumers a one-stop marketplace from which to access a number of health insurance options. O'Malley waited barely 12 hours after the final session wrapped up to ink his name to the two measures: SB 182/HB 166, which establishes the exchange as a public corporation and lays out its basic governance framework, and SB 183/HB 170, which aligns several state laws with ACA requirements, including allowing young adults to stay on their parents' health coverage until age 26 and barring insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Cell phone use while operating a motor vehicle: The existing ban on writing texts while driving is now expanded to include reading them, as well. A bill that would have allowed the police to pull over motorists for using their phones or hand-held devices failed. A driver must also be committing another offense to be issued a citation for using the phone.
Interlock for drunk drivers: Inebriated drivers who far exceed the blood-alcohol limit will be required to use ignition interlock devices on their vehicles. Drivers who decline to take a breathalyzer test would also be required to use the devises. Anyone who declines to participate would have their license revoked.
Presidential primary date changed: Under pressure from the Democratic and Republican parties, Maryland moved the date for the 2012 presidential primary to April. (The 2008 primary was in February.)
Less taxes, more fees: Lawmakers mulled a multitude of tax increases, but in the end turned to an assortment of fees to balance the state's $14.6 billion budget. They voted to double charges for recording land deals, obtaining birth certificates, registering vehicle titles and having personalized license plates.
Sources: Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Washington Business Journal, StateNet, Daily Record.