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Politics

Abortion access, police accountability, free transit and restraining students all subjects of Maryland laws that started Friday

The Maryland General Assembly passed 834 bills over 90 days in 2022, ranging from the odd, like a prohibition on declawing cats, to the routine, like expanding transportation options, by the time lawmakers adjourned for the year at midnight April 11.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan allowed 783 to become law — with or without his signature.

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A few bills took effect immediately as emergency legislation, while some will become law later this year or afterward. But 264 laws covering abortion, education, policing, pollution, transportation and many other topics took effect Friday.

Here’s a glimpse at some of them:

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Transportation expansion

Under one new law, the Maryland Transit Authority will look for ways to fulfill the Maryland Area Regional Commuter Cornerstone Plan, which was created to ensure the agency reaches its commuter rail project goals.

Additionally, the MTA is to establish a team to determine how to maintain sustainable funding sources for regional consumer rail updates and expansions, including building new lines between Perryville and Newark, Delaware, and extending rail service to Alexandria, Virginia.

A third track will be added between Rockville and Germantown on the Brunswick Line, and the existing Camden and Penn lines will be upgraded.

In mid-June, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., were officially eliminated from the pool of U.S. cities eligible to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Baltimore and Washington combined bids in April to increase their likelihood of selection. Some speculated that transportation concerns knocked the region out of the running.

Another law that went into effect Friday requires the MTA to provide free rides to Baltimore City Public School students for on- and off-campus school-related or extracurricular activities between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Sen. Cory McCray, the bill’s sponsor, said the law applies to bus, light rail and Baltimore Metro Subway Link systems.

The same policy is extended to kids participating in Baltimore City YouthWorks during the summer work period as they commute to activities in the program.

Abortion access

Also as of Friday, physicians, nurse practitioners, nurse-midwifes, licensed certified midwives, physician assistants and other certified licensed medical practitioners are eligible to provide abortion procedures in Maryland as access across the country tightens due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

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Until now, those medical providers only were able to prescribe pills to trigger medication abortions, which are performed until around the 10th week of pregnancy. Beyond that point, pregnant individuals generally undergo in-clinic abortion procedures. In Maryland, abortions can be provided until the fetus reaches viability, which typically occurs around the 24th week.

In addition to expanding the amount of eligible qualified providers across the state, the Abortion Care Access Act requires the state to budget $3.5 million annually to fund a training program for clinicians who are interested in performing abortion services beyond medication.

Though the law went into effect Friday, the spending is not mandated until July 2023. Democratic lawmakers have pleaded with Hogan to release the program’s funding early, in light of a leaked Supreme Court opinion on the Roe ruling. Hogan declined, saying allowing people who aren’t doctors to perform abortions could lower standards for women’s health care.

‘Forever chemicals’

Starting January 2024, Maryland will prohibit the sale, distribution and use of food packaging, carpeting and fire fighting foam that contains intentionally added PFAS chemicals, also known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances or “forever chemicals.” These chemicals also are often used in cleaning products, nonstick cookware and stain-repellent fabric. Measurable levels of PFAS chemicals have been discovered in Baltimore’s water supply.

Studies have linked PFAS chemicals to various cancers, low birth weights, decreased fertility, hormonal issues and increased rates of obesity and high cholesterol, among other health-related problems.

The bill behind that prohibition became law Friday, and also requires the Maryland Department of Environment to submit a report to the General Assembly by Dec. 31 about tests performed for PFAS chemicals on state waters and the results.

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The bill was named the George “Walter” Taylor Act in honor of a firefighter from Southern Maryland who died of metastatic neuroendocrine cancer in 2020.

Increasing police accountability

All law enforcement agencies now are required to cooperate with any investigations performed by the Independent Investigations Division of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office when a civilian has been fatally shot by a police officer.

Local law enforcement is required to provide the unit with any requested evidence.

This legislation closes loopholes in the investigative portion of the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021, which was put to the test this year. After Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler refused to turn over all evidence following a fatal police shooting in April, Attorney General Brian Frosh sued Gahler, and a Harford County judge ordered its disclosure.

The new law also tightens up a 2021 disciplinary procedure to be used by police accountability boards and charging committees for officers facing misconduct complaints. Each of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions had to create a police accountability board by Friday.

Additionally, the Department of Legislative Services will convene a task force to study the potential for establishing minimum transparency practices for state’s attorneys’ offices, such as collecting information regarding charging and sentencing and creating a structure for how prosecutors gather case information and what data should be made public or kept private.

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Other portions of the new law, including measures establishing reporting requirements for the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy and the Division of Parole and Probation, will go into effect Oct. 1.

Mental health crises

Under another new law, Maryland established a permanent trust fund to maintain its behavioral health crisis response services, including call centers, mobile crisis teams and crisis stabilization centers.

The move comes as 988 officially becomes the national crisis hotline number on July 16.

Restraining students

As of Friday, Maryland public and private school personnel are prohibited from physically restraining students’ ability to move their head, arms, legs or torso as a behavioral health intervention during school hours unless it is necessary to protect their safety or the safety of others.

If physical restraint is used, schools must demonstrate that other intervention methods failed.

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Additionally, secluding a student in a separate room away from their classmates can only be used if a qualified health practitioner is observing the student and determines that’s appropriate. Extra rules apply if locks are used.

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Students may be secluded for a maximum of 30 minutes. Reviews for alternatives and disclosures to the state education department are required if a student is restrained or secluded 10 times during a school year.

The bill became law seven months after the U.S. Department of Justice reached a settlement with the Frederick County Public School system following a federal investigation that found the system discriminated against students with disabilities by disproportionately using physical restraint and seclusion in largely nonemergency situations.

According to a Justice Department news release from December, the investigation found thousands of examples of the use of restraint and seclusion in 2 1/2 school years. Students with disabilities accounted for 100% of seclusions and 99% of restraints in the school district, despite comprising 11% of the student population.

In a settlement with the government, the school system agreed to end the practice of seclusion, report and evaluate all incidents of physical restraint, train school staff on appropriate behavioral intervention plans and offer counseling and education services to students who had been subjected to the district’s discriminatory practices.


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