Gov. Larry Hogan signed dozens of bills passed during the Maryland General Assembly’s recently wrapped legislative session at a ceremony Thursday in the State House in Annapolis, including measures to ban the declawing of cats, designate 988 as an emergency suicide prevention telephone hotline and ban the use of the dangerous, long-lasting PFAS chemicals.
The new law will ban PFAS, often referred to as “forever chemicals,” in paper products for food packaging and in rugs and carpets, as well as in firefighting foams. The restrictions will take effect Jan. 1, 2024.
Studies have shown PFAS — or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — may be linked to a number of adverse health outcomes, including decreased fertility, low birth weight, immune system impairment, increased cholesterol and obesity, and hormone interference.
The chemicals are sometimes used in stain-repellent fabrics, nonstick cookware, food packaging, cleaning products and firefighting foams. Chemical industry groups have resisted broad bans or restrictions on PFAS, arguing the label encompasses a relatively wide range of chemicals and that government restrictions or regulations on PFAS should more narrowly target specific compounds.
Maryland’s new slate of restrictions was dubbed the George “Walter” Taylor Act in memory of a Southern Maryland firefighter who died in 2020 of metastatic neuroendocrine cancer.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency under President Joe Biden has moved to curtail the use PFAS chemicals and EPA Administrator Michael Regan has called for tighter regulations. Congress in 2019 mandated that companies must report discharges of PFAS chemicals over a certain threshold. Further legislation to restrict the use of PFAS passed the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives last year but was filibustered by Senate Republicans.
Lawmakers in a number of other states, pressed by environmentalists, also are weighing restrictions or outright bans on using PFAS chemicals in many products. Maryland last year enacted a much more limited prohibition on firefighters from using PFAS-containing foams during training.
Hogan, a second-term Republican, also put his pen to a lengthy list of other bills passed by the Democrat-dominated General Assembly during its annual 90-day legislative session, which wrapped up April 11. It was the final legislative session for Hogan, who will leave office early next year due to term limits.
The governor has several weeks to decide whether to veto stacks of additional bills passed during the legislature’s final days. But he has signed scores of bills during two ceremonial events this month, during which dignitaries cycled through an ornate second floor reception room to pose behind Hogan and legislative leaders as they put their signatures on legislation and passed out pens by the dozens.
The 988 hotline is slated to launch nationwide in July. The Maryland legislation will allocate state funds to support mental and behavioral health call centers to respond to people who reach out to the emergency line.
The cat declawing ban Hogan signed Thursday will make Maryland just the second state to outlaw the increasingly controversial practice, which animal welfare advocates describe as cruel, unnecessary and inhumane.
Hogan also signed several other animal welfare bills championed by groups like the Humane Society, including a ban on the sale of animal parts or pieces from endangered or imperiled wildlife, as well as a new law that requires owners who leave dogs outside during extreme weather to ensure they have access to shade or shelter.
A pedestrian and bicyclist safety initiative, dubbed the “Vision Zero Implementation Act,” likewise got Hogan’s approval Thursday. It requires the Maryland State Highway Administration to conduct an infrastructure review of every pedestrian or bicyclist fatality along a state road to check for design or structural flaws and propose improvements. A report must be completed within six months of a death and will be published online.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.