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Child care staff to be certified

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland becomes the first state to require certification of child care workers in 24-hour residential programs under a new law taking effect today.

The State Board for the Certification of Residential Child Care Program Professionals is now responsible for certifying an estimated 10,000 employees who work in residential child care programs. Previously, the panel oversaw certification for program administrators. The new rules require that workers have a college degree, or else have a high school diploma and have completed a training program. They must also pass an examination and clear state and federal criminal background checks. All workers must be certified by Oct. 1, 2013.

The requirements stem from a spate of incidents at group homes, including the death last year of a 17-year-old while being restrained by staff members at the now-closed Bowling Brook Preparatory School in Carroll County.

"I'm trying to raise the standards for folks who work in these group homes," said state Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who is active on juvenile justice issues and the lead sponsor of the bill. A related law proposed by Zirkin, requiring state officials to sign off on new group homes before they open to ensure that the facilities are spread throughout the state, also takes effect today.

Other laws going on the books today include:

* Increasing fines for providing alcohol to teens. The fines for a first offense rise from $1,000 to $2,500; for subsequent offenses, the penalty will be $5,000, up from $1,500. The tougher penalty will "narrow the pipeline of alcohol flowing to teens in Maryland," said Kurt Gregory Erickson, president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program.

* Designating walking as the "official state exercise" of Maryland. Del. William A. Bronrott of Montgomery County, sponsor of the measure, said walking is "preventative medicine." A similar Bronrott-sponsored bill passed the Assembly in 2003 but was vetoed by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

* Designating the Smith Island cake as the "official state dessert."

* Prohibiting those younger than 18 from using tanning beds without written consent from a parent or guardian. Penalties for owners of tanning facilities who violate the law are $250 for a first offense; penalties rise to $1,000 for third and subsequent offenses.

* Requiring drivers hired to transport the disabled to undergo criminal background checks.

* Creating a "Truth in Music Advertising Law" that establishes a $15,000 penalty for musical acts that lure concertgoers by fraudulently copying the names and songs of famous performers.

* Establishing the day after Thanksgiving as an American Indian Heritage Day holiday for state employees.

* Requiring e-mail and instant message addresses and chat-room identities to be included on sex-offender registries.

* Creating a Maryland Anatomical Gift Donor Registry for donors who want to make gifts to eye banks or other tissue donation programs.

* Requiring the Motor Vehicle Administration to notify the co-signer of a minor's driver's license application about moving violations issued to the minor.

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