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Policing, prescriptions, voting: Hundreds of new Maryland laws go into effect Friday

When the calendar flips to a new month Friday, hundreds of new laws go into effect. Here’s a look at some of the measures:

Changes to policing procedures

Maryland lawmakers passed a sweeping set of reforms to policing practices earlier this year, and the first changes take effect on Friday.

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A new independent team of investigators housed in the state Office of the Attorney General will take over investigating fatal incidents that involve police. And the public will be able to request documents related to police misconduct cases, which previously were shielded from view as “personnel records.”

There also are new limits on when police can use no-knock warrants and prohibitions on using surplus military equipment.

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Another new policing law requires police departments to tally up all of the settlements and judgments they pay for when their officers use force against people. They must report that information to the state each year, starting March 1.

Other police reform laws go into effect later, including a repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, which has been criticized as being overly protective of bad police officers.

No more life without parole for juveniles

Juveniles will no longer be subjected to the possibility of being imprisoned for life without the chance of parole, under a law going into effect known as the Juvenile Restoration Act.

Supporters of the act argued that teens who commit serious crimes can grow and mature while incarcerated. They also receive treatment for mental health challenges and childhood trauma that may have influenced their criminal actions.

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“Kids who are not 18 years old yet are different than adults,” said Sen. Chris West, a Baltimore County Republican and lead sponsor of the act. “Kids are more impulsive and their brains haven’t matured. They’re still creatures in the developmental stages. They could have fallen into the wrong company, been in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The law applies to juveniles who are convicted either in adult court or juvenile court.

It also allows defendants sentenced as teens who have done at least 20 years behind bars to petition a judge to shorten their sentences. The judge must find that the defendant is no longer a threat to society and that “the interest of justice would be served” by reducing the sentence.

“This is no get-out-of-jail-free card,” West said.

West was the sole Republican who supported the bill, joined by Democratic lawmakers as co-sponsors, including Del. Jazz Lewis of Prince George’s County who sponsored the House of Delegates version.

West found himself in the unique position of being on the opposite side of the issue as Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who vetoed the Juvenile Restoration Act.

Hogan wrote in his veto letter that young people convicted of “heinous” crimes such as murder and rape “require the most serious of consequences.”

Lawmakers overturned the veto.

Changes to early voting

Several new laws will affect future elections, including measures to expand early voting.

Most counties will need to set up more early voting locations for future elections under a law sponsored by Del. Eric Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat, that sets a new population-based formula.

The selection of the early sites will be done by local elections boards, with signoff from the state — which is the reverse of how sites have been selected in the past. Local elections officials will need to take into account factors such as how accessible the sites are to voters who use public transit and how close they are to densely-populated areas.

Another new law expands the hours for early voting centers, requiring them to be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily. Previously, early voting centers opened at 8 a.m. for presidential general elections and 10 a.m. for all other elections.

That measure was sponsored by Del. Alonzo T. Washington, a Prince George’s County Democrat, and Sen. Mary Washington, a Baltimore Democrat.

Help with cheaper prescriptions

Pharmacists will have a greater ability to switch patients to lower-cost drugs, making it less likely that they’ll walk away from high-cost prescriptions.

It wasn’t too long ago that pharmacists were forbidden from telling customers when a cheaper option was available. That’s changed, but pharmacists were only able to switch a patient from a brand-name drug to a generic drug without having to ask the prescribing doctor to write a new prescription.

A new law going into effect will allow pharmacists to switch between name brands, from a generic to a name brand or between generics, according to sponsor Del. Emily Shetty, a Montgomery County Democrat.

Shetty’s inspiration for the bill was personal: She said she previously rationed expensive medication when she didn’t know that a cheaper alternative was available.

“It gives patients the information they need at the pharmacy counter that there are lower-cost options available to them,” she said.

Shetty said the typical American spends $1,700 annually on prescription drugs. When patients ration their drugs or opt not to take them, it leads to increased deaths and rising health care costs, she said.

Pharmacists use a guide from the U.S. Federal Drug Administration known as the “orange book” to determine which drugs are “therapeutic equivalents” that can be switched, Shetty said.

The bill was a bipartisan effort, with Republican Sen. Steve Hershey of the upper Eastern Shore as a co-sponsor.

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