Roundup of Bills Moving through Maryland's Legislature

ANNAPOLIS (January 29, 2018)—From a proposal to protect ship captains from laser pointers to a possible end to a front license tag, here are some of the more interesting bills recently introduced in the Maryland General Assembly.

Public Safety—Emergency Medical Services (HB0139 and HB0140) : Delegate Tony Knotts, D-Prince George's, is pushing for legislation to equip fire departments with motorcycles and bicycles for a faster response time in certain situations. With vehicles that can maneuver through standstill traffic or go off terrain, Knotts said, EMTs can "cut life-saving times in half." Opponents argue that a law wouldn't change anything—it's not illegal for an EMT to use a bike—but Knotts, who's fought for this for three years, thinks it will take legislation to raise awareness and encourage authorities to use them.

Criminal Law—Misuse of Laser Pointer (HB0125) : Laser pointers can blind ship captains and aircraft pilots, said Calvert County Sheriff Mike Evans, who testified with Delegate Mark Fisher, R-Calvert, during a House Judiciary hearing. In April, deputies investigated an incident involving a laser pointer directed at Coast Guard vessels in the Chesapeake Bay. They found a suspect but, given the current law, couldn't file appropriate charges. Knowingly shining a light at an aircraft and causing bodily harm to a pilot is punishable by imprisonment for up to 25 years—this bill would match that penalty for doing the same to vessels and other vehicles.

Public Information Act—Suits Filed by Custodians—Prohibition (SB0167) : Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery, is taking proactive measures to try to protect the requester under the Public Information Act. In rare cases, a custodian of public records has turned around and sued the requester—it's a way of scaring the requester with potential fees and litigation so that they back off, Feldman said. Though no such case has happened in Maryland—current law establishes that all are entitled access to information on government affairs and that the Office of the Attorney General must post the contact information for every unit representative—Feldman said he wants Maryland to lead the way in transparency. The bill is not meant to override current law, in which access to some material is illegal, but the opposition argues that it does and would also lead to abuse of rights by the requester.

Motor Vehicle Laws—Registration Plants—Single Registration Plate Requirement (SB0012) : Maryland could join 19 other states in requiring just a rear license plate for all vehicles. Currently, only five classes of vehicles, including motorcycles and trailers, have just one plate. Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, D-Baltimore County and sponsor, said owners of vehicles without a front tag can rack up costs trying to install it themselves. There's considerable opposition to this bill. Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis testified that the front tag can be critical to finding hit-and-run offenders, saying it's "the only investigative piece of tangible evidence we have to link us to the striking vehicle." Even if the tag doesn't fall off in a collision, Lewis said, it can leave an imprint in the other car. Opponents also argue that there are fiscal and safety benefits to having two tags. For one, front plates are often easier for electronic tolls to read. And two, the Maryland Correctional Enterprises employs 70 inmates at the license tag plant at Jessup Correctional Institution. The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services warned that a new law would eliminate some job opportunities.

Sales and Use Tax—Hygienic Aids—Exemption (SB0081) : A bill requested by Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot would exempt female hygienic products from the state sales and use tax. Under current law, tampons are exempt from the tax, along with baby oil, baby powder, sanitary napkins and disposable medical supplies. Sponsored by Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, D-Baltimore and Howard Counties, the bill would follow the lead of Washington, D.C., which exempted all female hygiene products from sales and use tax in 2016. Because of concern that retailers would be inconsistent in determining what is a female hygienic, the bill will use the interpretation of the Comptroller's Office.

Motor Vehicle Administration—Disability Parking Placards (SB0039) : The Maryland Department of Transportation is pushing a bill that would allow the Motor Vehicle Administration to issue permanent handicap parking placards to people with permanent disabilities. Currently, they have to renew every four years. Proponents of the bill believe that's an "unnecessary burden," given that their disability, certified by a doctor, is permanent. The Department of Transportation also believes a permanent placard would mean fewer lost cards as it wouldn't have to be removed.

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