Gov. Martin O'Malley signed legislation Thursday making Maryland one of a handful of states to extend anti-discrimination laws to protect transgender people.
The transgender rights legislation, which prohibits discrimination in employment and housing, was one of scores of bills O'Malley signed during the last scheduled public signing ceremony of his eight years as governor.
Other bills he approved will overhaul Maryland's speed camera law to add safeguards for drivers from malfunctioning systems and outlaw "revenge porn" — the posting of intimate pictures on the Internet as a way of getting back at a former spouse or lover.
The governor handed the pen he used to sign the transgender protection law to Sen. Richard S. Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat who fought for eight years to persuade his colleagues to pass it.
"It provides important protections for people who are just trying to live their lives," Madaleno said afterward. "They won't get thrown out of their homes, out of their jobs, out of a restaurant, just for being who they are."
The transgender rights measure could face a challenge at the polls in November. Conservative opponents have launched a petition drive, hoping to collect enough signatures to put it up for a referendum vote. They have dubbed it the "Bathroom Bill" because it protects a person's right to use restrooms for the gender with which they identify.
House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, one of the bill's leading opponents, said it would have unintended consequences.
"The way this poorly crafted law was written allows a man, who sincerely believes in his heart that he is a woman, to have access to the bathroom, changing room or locker room where there are women and little girls. This is just not right," said Szeliga, a Harford County Republican.
Still up in the air is a measure that could block the construction of a wind farm in Somerset County. Lawmakers from Southern Maryland won a legislative battle with their Eastern Shore counterparts to pass the bill in an effort to protect Naval Air Station Patuxent River, arguing that tall turbines across the Chesapeake Bay could interfere with base radar.
Nina Smith, O'Malley's spokeswoman, said the governor has not decided whether to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
Under the Maryland Constitution, the governor has up to 50 days after the General Assembly's adjournment to make a decision. This year he has until May 27.
Opponents of the bill are hoping for a veto because O'Malley has long been a backer of Maryland's renewable energy industry. However, the legislation has the support of longtime Democratic allies of the governor such as Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Rep. Steny Hoyer.
If O'Malley vetoes it, his decision would be final because the General Assembly has finished its business for the current four-year term. O'Malley has vetoed few bills for policy reasons, preferring to work out issues with the Democratic leadership during the legislative process.
While O'Malley's signing of the transgender bill pleased his allies on the left, they were disappointed in his decision to sign legislation that will gradually cut the number of taxpayers subject to the estate tax by more than 80 percent. The law, strongly supported by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, was seen as a way of keeping wealthy taxpayers in Maryland.
Kate Planco Waybright, executive director of Progressive Maryland, said she was "deeply disappointed" by the decision.
"While 594,000 Marylanders — including countless children — live in poverty, while working families struggle to make ends meet, and while the vast majority of Marylanders will experience no significant tax break this year, the richest of the rich have hit the jackpot," Planco-Waybright said.
The speed camera bill narrows the definition of school zones, one of the areas where the cameras can be used under current law. It also requires local governments to designate an official to address complaints by motorists and void tickets issued improperly. The legislation also requires that future contracts with vendors include performance standards under which local governments can void the deals.
The revenge porn bill makes such an act a misdemeanor punishable by two years in jail and a $5,000 fine. The law takes effect Oct. 1, as does the transgender rights legislation. The speed camera law takes effect June 1, and the estate tax cut July 1.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun