Maryland Gov. O'Malley Signs Various Bills Into Law

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 8, 2009

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) yesterday signed into law bills that curtail driving privileges for illegal immigrants, ban the practice of text-messaging while driving and significantly tighten standards of evidence in death penalty cases.

Those were among more than 300 bills signed during the second in a series of ceremonies following the annual legislative session that ended last month. Other legislation makes Maryland the first state to include the homeless as a protected class in its hate-crime statute, allows early voting starting with the 2010 elections, and increases by three months the age at which teens can get a driver's license.

O'Malley sought to highlight a package of growth-management and environmental bills, including one that commits the state to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.

The governor hailed the legislation as evidence of "progress even in tough times," referring to the economic downturn's effect on the session, which was dominated by budget cuts.

In his remarks at the start of the State House ceremony, O'Malley made no mention of a controversial bill passed in the final hours of the session that seeks to bring Maryland into compliance with the federal security law known as Real ID.

Under the new law, motorists who cannot prove that they are in the country legally will be ineligible for a Maryland driver's license as of June 1. Those who previously received licenses by providing foreign documents that lacked a U.S. visa stamp can obtain a one-time driving permit. The permits, which could not be used for access to federal buildings or commercial airplanes, will expire in 2015.

With O'Malley's signature, Maryland joins the District and Virginia in seeking to curtail text-messaging while driving, a distracting practice most common among teenagers.

Under Maryland's law, it will be a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500, for anyone to write or send a text message while operating a vehicle.

At the beginning of the 90-day session, O'Malley sought a repeal of the state's death penalty. The bill he signed yesterday falls short of that, but under the new law, DNA or other biological evidence, a videotaped confession or videotaped evidence linking a defendant to a murder will be required to impose a death sentence.

O'Malley said the new restrictions will "help us prevent the possibility of ever putting an innocent person to death."

An expansion of the state's hate-crime statute signed by O'Malley will make Maryland the first state to include the homeless as a protected class. The bill also targets crimes committed against people because of their gender, and a separate measure signed yesterday seeks to protect the disabled.

Teenagers will have to wait until they are 16 years and 6 months old -- an additional three months -- to get a provisional driver's license under another bill signed yesterday. Eligibility for a full license is also pushed back three months, to 18.

Another bill signed by O'Malley allows labor unions to collect fees from state workers they represent in collective bargaining even if the workers are not members of the union.

Gerald W. McEntee, the national president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, was in Annapolis for the bill-signing, underscoring the bill's importance to labor unions.

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