Smoking Ban Signed Into Law

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 18, 2007

Maryland will join 18 states and the District in prohibiting lighting up in bars and restaurants, under legislation signed into law yesterday by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The smoking ban, designed to protect workers and patrons from secondhand smoke, will take effect in February. It was among 164 bills the governor signed in a fourth and final ceremony after the 90-day legislative session that ended last month.

Measures to deny parole to rapists whose victims are children, toughen penalties for gang members and withhold learner's permits for driving from teenagers who miss more than 10 days of school without an excuse also became law.

O'Malley (D) vetoed a measure that would change the makeup of the Prince George's County Board of Education, starting in 2010, by establishing nine single-member districts to replace the current mix of at-large and regional districts. The state attorney general's office advised O'Malley that the districts varied too much in population.

That veto brings to six the number of bills rejected by the governor, of 798 passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature.

The governor signed two voting initiatives. One requires that electronic ballots be backed up by a paper record, and the other brings to a referendum next year a proposal to amend the state constitution to allow voters to cast ballots up to two weeks before Election Day.

Also becoming law yesterday was the most substantive health-care initiative to emerge from the session -- an expansion of insurance coverage that allows young adults to remain on their parents' plans until they are 25. The Family Coverage Expansion Act also requires insurance companies to write policies that cover domestic partners and their children if employers request them.

"We just want to make sure families know about this," said Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), the bill's sponsor.

The smoking ban applies to private clubs and other membership organizations. Bars and restaurants can seek hardship waivers from local health departments. Baltimore and several counties, including Montgomery and Prince George's, already prohibit smoking in eating establishments.

O'Malley also signed "Jessica's Law," which eliminates the possibility of parole for anyone 18 or older convicted of first-degree rape or sexual offense against a victim younger than 13. The legislation, named for a 9-year-old Florida girl who was sexually assaulted and killed by a previously convicted sex offender, follows legislation enacted last year that imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years on such offenders.

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