Monday, April 29, 2013

2013 Legislative Session Summary

            By midnight on the final day of the 2013 legislative session, 2,610 bills and eight (8) joint resolutions had been presented to the Maryland General Assembly.  Of those, 766 bills and none of the resolutions were passed. Some of the few highlights of the new legislation passed during the 2013 regular session include:

Pit Bulls
In Tracey v. Solesky, 427 Md. 627 (2012), the Maryland Court of Appeals held that pit bulls are inherently dangerous, and that owners of pit bulls are strictly liable for damages arising from injuries caused by their pit bulls.  SB 160 and HB 78 would have abrogated this holding by creating a rebuttable presumption that the owner knew or should have known of the dog’s vicious or dangerous propensities.  Ultimately, both bills failed, and Solesky remains the law of Maryland.

Connor’s Law

Connor’s Law (HB 364) mandates the implementation of an Artificial External Defibrillator (AED) program for counties and municipalities that own or operate swimming pools.  The program requires the onsite presence of an AED at each swimming pool and of an individual with training on using an AED.

Firearm Legislation

The Firearm Safety Act of 2013 (SB 281) expands regulation of firearms, firearm dealers, and ammunition.  The bill prohibits the sale of assault weapons, sales of firearm magazines larger than 10 rounds, and possession of a firearm or deadly weapon on public school property.  The bill also requires handgun license applicants to be at least 21 years old, submit to a criminal history check, submit fingerprints, and complete a safety course.

Death Penalty
With the passing of SB 261, the Maryland General Assembly repealed the death penalty.  Under the new legislation, individuals convicted of 1st degree murder must be given a life sentence or life without the possibility of parole.

Slayer Statute
The passage of SB 489 and HB 1211, known as the Slayer Statute and the Ann Sue Metz law, prevents a person who feloniously and intentionally kills, conspires to kill, or procures the killing of another person from benefitting from their victim’s death by Will or intestacy.  The law becomes effective for anyone who dies on or after October 1, 2013.

Named after a girl who committed suicide because of prolonged harassment over the internet, Grace’s Law (HB 396) prohibits the use of an interactive computer service to inflict serious emotional distress on a minor.  The legislation defines “interactive computer service” to mean an information or access software provider that provides computer access to a server by multiple users.  Individuals who violate this law may be subject to imprisonment for one year and/or $500 fine.

Medical Marijuana
HB 1101 allows for the trial use of marijuana for medical reasons through academic medical centers.  Similar legislation such as HB1100 and HB 302, which would have authorized more widespread use of medical marijuana, and SB 297, which would have changed possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana to a civil fine of $100, did not pass.

Wind Energy
Starting in 2017, The Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 (HB 226, Ch. 3) requires electricity providers to include 2.5% of energy generated by wind as part of their gross sales.  The bill also establishes the Maryland Offshore Wind Business Development Fund and the Maryland Offshore Wind Advisory Committee, which will promote emerging offshore wind businesses, and the Clean Energy Program Task Force and the Clean Energy Technical Education Task Force, which will study and make recommendations on program offerings in the clean energy field in Maryland universities and community colleges.

The passage of SB 279 and HB 224 improves access to voting.  The legislation increases the number of early voting centers throughout the state, allows voters to change their registration during early voting while still maintaining their ability to vote early, provides for absentee ballots to be obtained online, and allows voters to change their information online while still allowing voters to participate in early voting.

Gas Tax
The Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013 increases the motor fuel tax rate by the rate of inflation to the nearest tenth of one cent.  The increase will take place on July 1st of each year.  The legislation also requires the Maryland Transit Administration to increase fares every two years based on the Consumer Price Index, rounded to the nearest 10 cents.

Cell Phones in Motor Vehicles
Prior to the legislative session, secondary enforcement of motor vehicles included prohibitions on use of a cell phone by a minor while operating a motor vehicle, use of a cell phone by an adult on a provisional license or learner’s permit while operating a vehicle, use of a cell phone by a driver of an occupied school vehicle, and use of a cell phone by a fully licensed adult while operating a vehicle in motion.  Following the passing of SB 339 and HB 753, those offenses become primary enforcement prohibitions.  The legislation also increases the associated fines, setting a maximum penalty of $175 for a third or subsequent offense.

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