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Those mourning Kayla Winter Perry, who was killed in a car accident in October, released balloons into the sky in her honor at a vigil last fall. Proposed legislation in the Maryland General Assembly would prohibit such releases out of environmental concerns.
Those mourning Kayla Winter Perry, who was killed in a car accident in October, released balloons into the sky in her honor at a vigil last fall. Proposed legislation in the Maryland General Assembly would prohibit such releases out of environmental concerns. (Ulysses Muñoz)

Several hundred bills have already been filed in Annapolis this legislative session. Here’s look at some you might not have heard of — and what should happen to them.

S.B. 28/H.B. 13: Prohibition on Releasing a Balloon into the Atmosphere

Sponsors: Republican senators: Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (Kent, Queen Anne’s, Cecil and Caroline counties) and Mary Beth Carozza (Somerset, Worcester and Wicomico counties). Democratic senators: Clarence K. Lam (Baltimore and Howard counties) and Ronald N. Young (Frederick County). Democratic Delegates: Regina T. Boyce and Brooke E. Lierman (Baltimore City), Edith J. Patterson (Charles County), Sara Love (Montgomery County), Shelly Hettleman (Baltimore County), Brooke E. Lierman. Republican delegates: Steven J. Arentz (Kent, Queen Anne’s, Cecil and Caroline counties) and Wayne A. Hartman (Wicomico and Worcester counties).

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Synopsis: Prohibits the intentional release of latex or Mylar balloons most typically associated with certain ceremonies (weddings, memorials, graduations) or public events (race kickoffs and the like). Violators will be subject to a $250 civil fine, enforced by the Department of the Environment.

Analysis: The intention here is good, and the bipartisan support pleasing to see, though whether the subject needs to be legislated is open to debate. Littered balloons — and make no mistake, that’s what “released” balloon are — pose a significant hazard to the environment. They pollute waterways, get tangled in trees and power lines, and are ingested by animals. Even the supposedly biodegradable balloons can last for years, causing all sorts of problems and killing wildlife. Virginia researchers found 11,441 pieces of balloon-related litter strewn across five remote beaches over a four-year period. That’s a message that needs to reach schools, event planners, funeral homes and anyone else inclined to commemorate a moment with a brief burst of color in the air (we’re looking at you, organizers of the Indianapolis 500). Several Maryland counties — including Queen Anne’s and Frederick — already ban the practice, and if a state law is needed to raise awareness, so be it (even if such releases should technically be covered under existing litter laws). In reality, it will be difficult to enforce, and we don’t want Department of Environment employees crashing memorial ceremonies seeking to hand out fines. But putting the law on the books will at least send a symbolic warning, particularly to those at the bigger organizations who should know better.

Editorial board recommendation: Pass

H.B. 52: Prohibition on local regulation of lemonade stands.

Sponsors: Delegates Neil Parrott, a Washington County Republican, and Steve Johnson, a Harford County Democrat

Synopsis: Prohibits local prohibition or "regulating the sale of lemonade or other nonalcoholic beverages by minors from a stand on private property.”

Analysis: What kind of horrible human being would try to shut down a kid’s lemonade stand? In 2011, parents of children selling lemonade outside the U.S. Open tournament in Montgomery County were fined $500 for not having the proper license. The move was met with much mockery. We thought the rest of the state learned its lesson then, but we’re willing to put it into law if this is still an issue anywhere.

Editorial board recommendation: Pass

S.B. 78: Student Discipline Regulations

Sponsor: Sen. Michael J. Hough, a Republican representing Frederick and Carroll counties

Synopsis: Requires county boards of education to adopt student discipline regulations that factor in the individuals harmed by the student’s behavior.

Analysis: The bill sets forth specific practices that should be part of discipline discussions at most Maryland schools: requiring an apology for the bad behavior, restitution for any injury or loss to an individual, a conference between student guardians and school staff and community, and minimizing the opportunity for contact among the harmed and the tormentor. Restorative practices in place in Maryland schools, including many in Baltimore City, already embrace much of the spirit of the proposed law by emphasizing empathy and giving victims a chance to question the wrongdoer and come to a mutual understanding. Requiring an apology or a conference should be decisions made on a case by case basis, however, and not legislated. These are policy choices that should be made by educators with a goal of keeping the school safe, healing relationships, resolving conflict and minimizing harm and humiliation.

Editorial board recommendation: Fail

H.B. 87/S.B. 135: Access to Vaccines Act

Sponsors: Del. Marc Korman and Sen. Brian J. Feldman, both Montgomery County Democrats

Synopsis: Allows capable minors who are at least 16 years old to consent to receive immunizations, and a health care provider to administer them, regardless of parent/guardian availability or objections.

Analysis: This isn’t just about defying anti-vaxxer parents, though there’s arguably value in that. Their misinformed fears and refusals to vaccinate, though well-meaning, are leading to a resurgence in a number of preventable diseases, including measles, which poses a significant threat to public health and “herd immunity.” But many older teens aren’t getting vaccinated because it’s inconvenient. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, most 17-year-olds go to routine doctor’s appointments on their own. That means they can’t get flu, Tdap or HPV vaccines — or any other kind of vaccine — while there, because they’re not legally authorized to give consent. And who’s likely to make a second special trip with a guardian? In Maryland, 16-year-olds are legally able to consent to engage in sexual activity; they certainly should be able to choose to protect themselves against disease.

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Editorial board recommendation: Pass

NOTE: Del. Robin L. Grammer Jr., a Baltimore County Republican, has submitted a similar bill (H.B. 66) that puts the vaccine consent age at 14. This may be a harder sell, but it deserves serious consideration. The same Journal of Adolescent Health study mentioned above notes that respondents, on average, said they would support minors having self-consent for vaccines at age 14.

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SB 147: Kratom Prohibition

Sponsor: Sen. Ronald N. Young, Frederick County Democrat

Synopsis: Designates two substances — mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine — found in the Southeast Asian kratom tree as Schedule I controlled dangerous substances that may not be legally used, possessed or distributed.

Analysis: The leaves of the kratom tree have psychotropic effects that act as a stimulant in small doses, and have been used for generations in Southeast Asia to fight fatigue. But the plant has become popular in America, where it’s marketed as an herbal supplement, over the past 10 years largely because it mimics opioids when consumed in large amounts. The Centers for Disease control published a report last year that found kratom was responsible for 91 unintentional overdose deaths between July 2016 and December 2017 (most of those killed had histories of substance misuse and drugs — including fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and alcohol — in their systems, along with kratom, at the time of death). The Food and Drug Administration has warned consumers “not to use” kratom, which is often ingested in pill or powder form, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency lists it as a “drug of concern.” A handful of states (including Alabama, Arkansas and Vermont) have outlawed it. Still, we’re not yet convinced that adding it to the Schedule I controlled substances list as yet another reason to arrest a drug user will be a good move, given the massive failure that the war on drugs has been in America and the vast inequities it has perpetuated within the criminal justice system. We’d prefer that the substance be studied to determine what kinds of medicinal purposes it might have, including the potential to help people get off of actual opioids, so that kratom might eventually be regulated to ensure quality, dosage consistency and purity.

Editorial board recommendation: Fail

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