ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer signed legislation yesterday that will add new protections for battered women in Maryland -- and could save lives.
The new domestic violence law, which goes into effect Oct. 1, allows many more women to obtain protective orders against abusive husbands and lovers.
And the orders may be imposed for up to 200 days. The limit of such orders under current law is 30 days -- far less than in most states.
Judy A. Wolfer, legal clinic director at the House of Ruth, a refuge for battered women, called the new domestic violence law "a great step in the right direction" -- but she said many states are still far ahead of Maryland.
She credited Governor Schaefer with providing the leadership needed to overcome outdated notions about "what men are entitled to."
Under current law, she said, many women "couldn't get into the courthouse" to ask for a protective order. Current law covers only women who are married and living with their husbands.
"If you have been living together for 10 years you weren't eligible. If you have been separated for a week, and he came into your house and beat you and you were married, you weren't eligible," she said, citing two examples which now are covered.
The changes will permit a woman to get help sooner -- a vital improvement, Ms. Wolfer said, because a woman is most in danger of being killed by an abuser right after leaving him.
A Colorado study shows that orders which are backed up with jail sentences and fines do work in many cases, she said.
Under the new law, 60-day jail sentences and $500 fines may be levied.
The domestic violence bill was one of 143 pieces of legislation enacted by the 1992 General Assembly and signed into law by Mr. Schaefer. His deadline for signing or vetoing all 1992 legislation is May 26.
The governor signed an AIDS measure that would require the state health department to develop an anonymous patient-identifying system for those who are tested for the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
The bill, sponsored by the Schaefer administration, is intended to help the state better track HIV cases by determining how many people in Maryland have the virus, how old they are and where they live.
Another AIDS bill signed by Mr. Schaefer would empower victims of sexual attacks to ask a court to have the alleged attacker tested for the AIDS virus. Upon a victim's request, a court also would be required to order an HIV test for a person convicted of such a crime.
Also signed yesterday were bills to:
* Combine for budgetary purposes the education unit at Patuxent Institution with those at other state prisons. Patuxent's education unit was inadvertently left out of a budget reconciliation bill last fall. The omission forced the state temporarily to close the Patuxent unit and lay off or transfer all of its employees.
* Repeal Sunday Blue Laws in Allegany County that had prohibited retail or wholesale establishments from conducting business before 1 p.m. Sundays.
* Permit a victim to request the Maryland Parole Commission to prohibit an inmate from having contact with the victim as a condition of parole.
* Allow the Division of Parole and Probation to establish a home detention program for parolees and persons under mandatory supervision.
* Require the Department of Transportation to conduct a study on bicycle transportation in the state.