New laws deal with pets, lasers; Health care covered also in legislation taking effect today; Some penalties added; Assembly passed hundreds of measures in session this year


If you know what's good for you, you'll put away those laser pointers, stop running red lights and keep your pit bulls safely away from your neighbor's cat.

If not, you may be facing new or increased penalties under state laws that take effect today.

Using a laser pointer to harass someone is now a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to $500. The punishment for running a red light increased from one point on a driver's record to two. And the damages that may be assessed for the death or injury of a pet were doubled, to $5,000.

These three laws were among hundreds passed earlier this year by the General Assembly.

One that sparked prolonged debate bans a person from assisting in the suicide of another. Violation of the law, prompted by the actions of assisted-suicide advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian in Michigan, is a felony and carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Another measure exempts people who are disabled or older than 70 and who drive their vehicles less than 5,000 miles annually from the state's vehicle emission inspection test.

Several bills affect the health insurance of many Marylanders.

One requires insurers to offer patients a standing referral to specialists and to make it easier for a patient to see a specialist outside the insurer's panel of physicians.

The statute "strengthens consumer rights and ensures that medical decisions are made by doctors and patients, not bureaucrats," said Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who sponsored the legislation.

Other new laws require health insurers to pay for a prosthesis for a patient who has undergone a mastectomy, and for a screening test for the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia.

The health insurance laws apply to policies that are issued or renewed starting today. Existing insurance arrangements will be subject to the new requirements as of Oct. 1, 2000.

Also taking effect today are measures that:

Prohibit anyone younger than 15 from marrying. A 15-year-old who is pregnant or who has given birth may wed with a parent's consent. The measure grew out of publicity about the marriage last year of a pregnant 13-year-old and the baby's 29-year-old father.

Provide for unannounced state inspections of family day care providers. The law is a response to the deaths last year of two infant boys in a day care provider's home on Kent Island.

Revamp the ethics laws governing state legislators. Passed in the wake of several ethics controversies in the past year and a half, the law, among other things, bans lawmakers from accepting meals in most cases or sports tickets from State House lobbyists.

Two of the new laws deal with violent criminals.

In an effort to develop a genetic database of such criminals, one law requires the Maryland State Police to take DNA samples from people convicted of murder, robbery, first-degree assault and anyone who attempts to commit such crimes.

Those DNA samples will be stored in a state police data bank to be used to help solve crimes. The state police had been required to take such samples from about 4,000 people convicted of rape or other sexual offenses.

A second law authorizes the state to post a list of violent sexual offenders on the Internet -- a measure enacted despite concerns that such postings will lead to vigilantism.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services maintains such a list, but it is not available on the Internet.

The law requires the department to give legislators 60 days to review its plans before the Internet list is posted, meaning any posting is at least two months away.

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