Get ready for a mountain of new laws to hike over in Maryland, Virginia
By Laura Vozzella and John Wagner,
Virginia is becoming a better place for people who buy lots of guns, enjoy microbrewed beers, suffer from peanut allergies, keep bees, braid hair, inspect mold, write private-school tuition checks for somebody else’s kids, want to know the density of their breast tissue and long to see their names plastered on highways.
The commonwealth has become less hospitable to drunk drivers, college staffers who don’t report child sex abuse, unions, seed potatoes, voters who show up at the polls without ID, women seeking abortions and gay people trying to adopt children.
Next door in Maryland, there is change, too. It’s now easier to bring your own wine to restaurants. Golfers in Howard County can start drinking earlier in the morning. And the town of Damascus will get to vote on whether it wants to stay dry.
Meanwhile, Prince George’s County is joining the ranks of school districts with year-round schools. Buses in three Southern Maryland counties will stay in the fleet longer, and state education officials will develop “heat acclimation” guidelines for student athletes.
Far more noticeable to most Marylanders will be a new batch of tax increases. Higher income taxes for six-figure earners. A doubled “flush tax.” And higher taxes on little cigars and chewing tobacco.
Today, with the start of the new fiscal year, nearly 1,000 new laws take effect in both states.
766 measures in Virginia
In Virginia, 766 of the 849 laws that came out of the General Assembly session are now officially on the books. They run the gamut from hot-button legislation that grabbed headlines to obscure, workaday measures that might be felt only in the tiniest corners of the state.
“I think when you look at the entire body of work that the General Assembly approved and the governor signed, rather than focus on the very few social bills that went through, I think we did a lot of good work for the people of Virginia this session,” Sen. William M. Stanley (R-Franklin) said.
Among the little-noticed but potentially consequential laws is one allowing microbrewers to sell beer for on-site consumption. Until now, breweries not attached to restaurants could provide free tastings as part of tours and sell beer to go. But they could not sell to customers who wanted to hang out at the brewery over some suds.
At Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond, the law will have an immediate effect as the owners seek to turn the site into a “community meeting place,” said Eric McKay, one of the owners. Starting next week, the brewery will have expanded hours and more seating, as well as food trucks and live music to keep customers fed and entertained.
On July 4, to celebrate “new liberties granted to Virginia breweries,” Hardywood Park will release its Session Beer, a low-alcohol brew meant to encourage people to stick around and have more than one.
“It’s in the tanks right now,” McKay said.
Virginia beekeepers will also be in for a boost thanks to a law providing $200 grants for every new hive. Meant to help address the mysterious colony collapse disorder striking bees around the world, the legislation inspired delegates to buzz audibly whenever it came up in the chamber.
Virginians will get the chance to buy naming rights to state roads and bridges under a program conceived by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and expected to boost egos as much as state transportation revenue.
Braiders at salons and inspectors of mold will get the state out of their hair under a broad reorganization of the state government’s executive branch. The measure deregulates a number of professions and eliminates or merges government boards. Seed potatoes, which had their own board, now have to settle for being part of the Potato Board.
Radiologists who perform mammograms will have to start alerting patients if they have dense breast tissue, which makes it harder to spot tumors and also puts women at higher risk of cancer. Women seeking abortions will have to first undergo an ultrasound, a law that inspired the most contentious debate of the session.
Private adoption agencies that receive state money will be allowed to turn away gay people and others based on religious beliefs. Businesses and individuals can get a tax credit for donating tuition money to disabled, low- and middle-income students who want to attend private and parochial schools.
Voters will be required to show identification at the polls before their ballots will be counted, although a wider range of IDs — including utility bills or government checks — will be accepted.
All convicted drunk drivers will have to pass a breath-alcohol test to get their cars to start, under legislation. Virginia already required ignition interlock devices upon the second or subsequent driving-under-the-influence offenses, but now it also applies to first offenders.
Adult rapists who attack children younger than 13 will receive mandatory minimum life sentences. And under a law inspired by the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal at Penn State, university employees will be required to report suspected child abuse.
Schools will have to start making plans to stock epinephrine pens to treat students having serious allergic reactions. The mandatory project labor agreements favored by unions will be banned from state-funded projects.
Virginians will be allowed to buy as many guns as they like, now that the state has lifted its 19-year-old law capping purchases at one gun per month.
Taxing issue in Maryland
In Maryland, 222 of the 791 laws passed during this year’s annual 90-day session and later signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) will take effect today.
So, too, will a measure passed in a special session in May that bumps up income taxes on six-figure earners in Maryland — the state with the nation’s highest per-capita income.
The increases, which are retroactive to Jan. 1 and aim to help close chronic state budget shortfalls, affect more than 300,000 taxpayers — single-filers reporting income in excess of $100,000 and joint filers reporting more than $150,000.
Nearly one-third of those taxpayers live in Montgomery County, where the average cost per affected taxpayer will be $745 a year, according to state budget analysts.
The most high-profile laws from the regular session that are now in effect aim to step up the state’s efforts to protect the environment. Under one measure, championed by O’Malley, most Marylanders will see their yearly “flush tax” double to $60.
The fee, added onto water and sewer bills, is used to fund upgrades at the state’s 67 major wastewater treatment plants and other Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.
Under another O’Malley-backed law, counties will have to adopt rules to limit new housing developments served by septic systems, especially ones in areas dominated by farmland and forestland.
Pollution, the ‘death tax’
Another law requires localities to fund projects to reduce polluted runoff from roads, buildings and parking lots. Senate Republicans unsuccessfully sought to kill the bill with a filibuster, with Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin (Queen Anne’s) calling it an attempt “to tax rainwater.”
Both parties, however, were able to rally around a bill that seeks to protect family farms from the “death tax.”
A large number of the new Maryland laws affect a single county, and many of those alter the state’s patchwork of liquor laws. Residents of Baltimore, for example, are given the right to get beer refills in “growlers” — or refillable containers — at some bars.
And in one legislative district in the city, the required distance between liquor stores and places of worship increases.
Another measure affecting a single county allows Prince George’s to operate one or more year-round schools. Similar permission was previously given to five other counties, including Montgomery, and the city of Baltimore.
Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.
Related coverage: A partial list of some laws taking effect