Drivers among those affected by new laws in Maryland

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Speeding drivers, tow truck operators and fast-food fans who prefer not to be confronted with calorie counts are among those who might be frustrated by new laws in Maryland in the New Year.

There's no Jan. 1 trigger for new laws in Washington's Maryland suburbs, but several measures will take effect in the next few weeks, and others will kick in as the year progresses.

A new speed-camera law in Prince George's County's will take effect Monday, but county officials said they didn't have an exact start date for setting up cameras and giving tickets.

New laws in Prince George's making it tougher to start check-cashing businesses and banning food sales at pawn shops, and ordinances allowing wineries and bed-and-breakfasts in certain areas, will also take effect Monday.

Come spring, Montgomery County residents will have to find new resting places for their clunkers. Starting April 15, "unused" cars, trucks and trailers can't be kept on residential properties for more than 30 days.

The rules cover cars that are inoperable or aren't registered, with a few exceptions -- including those for people "on a foreign assignment for the United States government" and those in extreme financial hardship, and for restorers with a clear end date for their labors.

And if there's any remaining resolve for New Year's resolutions by July 1, patrons might glean some unwelcome news from a Montgomery law that will require calorie counts and salt and saturated fat totals to be posted or printed next to menu items at chain restaurants. A more detailed breakdown must be provided upon request.

Notices about one Prince George's law have been hitting tow truck operators' mailboxes in the days since Christmas. Many would have preferred a lump of coal.

Daniela Exis has been running the Kenilworth 66 auto repair shop in Hyattsville with her brother since 1973. On Jan. 8, an overhaul of towing industry rules will send the fee for her single tow truck to $1,000.

"Twenty-five dollars is no big deal. I'm willing to pay $100. But $1,000?" Exis said. "Why? Business is bad. And it looks like the worse the economy is, the more charges they put up."

County auditors said that the new law will net Prince George's, which is facing a deep budget shortfall, an extra $238,000 a year.

The higher truck fees are part of new regulations meant to increase trust in the towing industry. The county has tightened rules since a Mitchellville music engineer was fatally shot in 2006 while chasing a tow truck driver who was stealing his Chrysler.

Thomas Matzen, deputy director of Prince George's Department of Environmental Resources, said the law addresses a host of concerns, tightening regulations for repossessions and requiring better identification for licensed trucks. It also blocks licenses for convicted car thieves.

Matzen said that fee increases were recommended by the county's towing task force, which included a representative from the towing industry.

"The bad companies make the good companies look bad," said County Council Chairman Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel). "It costs money to put the enforcement person out on the street."

Exis said that raising fees for law-abiding operators won't affect the bad ones. "Those people, they have guns. You think they have a license for that?" she said.

Staff writers Neely Tucker and Jonathan Mummolo contributed to this report.

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