ASSEMBLY: Cell phone driving ban strengthened
Wednesday, 16 April 2014 13:48

More availability for medical marijuana use

by Bill Gates

Contrary to how it might have seemed, there was more to the recently-concluded General Assembly session than decriminalizing marijuana and raising the minimum wage.
    Continuing on the theme that using a cell phone while driving is bad, the legislature passed “Jake’s Law.”
    The bills (HB 1212 and SB 348) increase the penalty for someone who, due to being distracted by using a cell phone, causes an auto accident in which there is death or serious bodily injury.
    A driver convicted of such an offense will get 12 points on his or her driving record and be subject to up to a year in prison or a maximum fine of $5,000.
    The legislation was sparked by the death of a five-year-old boy in 2011.
    The vehicle in which the child was riding was rear-ended by another vehicle whose driver was using his cell phone.
    The guilty driver received only a $1,000 fine, prompting the introduction of legislation to bring the penalties for causing an accident under those in line with those for driving while intoxicated.

Medical marijuana
    A bill legalizing marijuana for medical use was passed during the 2012-13 session, but few people were able to take advantage of it due to the law requiring the marijuana be dispensed through academic medical centers, and no such centers wanting to be part of the program.
    The law has been expanded to allow qualifying patients to obtain medical marijuana through growers and dispensaries licensed by the state Medical Marijuana Commission and Fund.
    The commission can license no more than 15 growers through June 1, 2016, after which the number of available licenses will be adjusted to meet the demand for medical marijuana.
    Grower agents and dispensary agents muct be registered by the commission and must obtain a state and national criminal history records check.
    “It should have been stronger; I felt the actual wording left a lot to be desired,” said Del. Joseph “Sonny” Minnick (6th District), who voted against the House bill but voted for the conference committee bill (which settled the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
Transgender rights
    In 2011, a transgendered Dundalk native, Chrissy Lee Polis, was severly beaten in a Rosedale McDonald’s restaurant.
    The attackers were believed to have been motivated by Polis’ transgendered status.
    That helped lead to a bill in the General Assembly seeking rights for transgendered individuals.
    The bill (SB 212) finally passed this year. It prohibits discrimination based on “gender identity” in public accommodations, labor and employment, and housing.
    It further prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in state personnel actions and in the leasing of property for commercial use.
    Religious organizations are exempt from the employment discrimination provisions of the bill with respect to work connected with the activities of the religious entity.
    Concerns were raised about men claiming to be transgendered in order to use a women’s public restroom.
    “Don’t tell me it’s okay if my daughter is using a public restroom and some man walks in right behind her,” Minnick said.
    A provision in the new law allows places to forbid transgendered people from using public facilities such as locker rooms and restrooms as long as they have access to separate facilities for transgedered people.

Rain tax
    Officially known as “stormwater remediation fees”, they were passed during the prior session and took effect on July 1, 2013.
    The fee charges property owners for the amount of “impervious surfaces” that prevent rainwater from being soaked into the ground.
    Several bills were introduced during this session seeking to repeal the fees or establish exemptions or modifications to the fees.
    The bills aimed at entirely repealing the fees all failed, as did bills which would have exempted specific counties (Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Frederick) from the requirement to assess stormwater remediation fees.
    A bill which passed (SB 172) authorizes Frederick and Carroll counties to delay collecting the fees while they develop an alternative source of financing for the purpose of meeting the requirements of each jurisdiction’s federal stormwater permit.

 Chesapeake stadium   
    The state budget includes $80,000 toward the construction of an athletic stadium at Chesapeake High School.
    With the completion of a stadium at Patapsco High, and a stadium currently under construction at Dundalk High, Chesapeake was the only high school in the southeast area without a stadium.
    Plans are for bleachers and a security fence allowing controlled access to the facilty.
    As of now, lights are not planned for the stadium.
Estate tax
    A bill (HB 739) passed which will raise the state’s estate tax exemption by increments before coupling it to the federal level in 2019.
    Maryland’s estate tax is imposed — at rates up to 16 percent — on the transfer of property from the estate of the deceased, if the estate is worth $1 million for an individual or $2 million for a couple.
    The federal government taxes only estates worth over $5.34 million.

Smoking age
    While the legislature decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, a bill which would have raised the legal age to purchase tabbacco products to 21 failed.
    The bill (HB 278) received an unfavorable report in the House Judiciary Committee and never reached the floor for a vote.