H.B. 1478 was seemingly just a routine bill that went into effect July 1 after being enacted by the Maryland General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Harry Hughes.

But it outlawed what one Air Force officer described last fall as "a new and dangerous form of the 'military clause' " that permitted unscrupulous landlords to rip off unsuspecting military personnel who are forced to break their leases when ordered to move to new stations.

The genesis of H.B. 1478 is an item last September in the Bolling Beam, the weekly newspaper that serves Bolling Air Force Base in Southwest Washington.

It quoted Capt. Grant L. Clark, an assistant staff judge advocate at the base, who warned that some landlords in suburban Maryland had found a way around a routine lease clause that permits personnel who are being transferred to break their leases on 30 days' notice.

Clark said some landlords were adding small print that permitted them to collect "liquidated damages" -- the forfeiture of security deposits and redecorating costs. These could run to $1,000 or more.

Metro Scene spotted the item and quoted from it. The report caught the eye of retired Marine Capt. J.E. (Ned) Dolan of Garrett Park, a disabled veteran of the Korean War who is legislative chairman for the Retired Officers Association in Montgomery County. Outraged, Dolan contacted state Del. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Montgomery).

Sympathetic, Forehand suggested he'd get better results with sponsorship of a reform bill by Del. John C. Astle (D-Anne Arundel), a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve and a member of the House Judiciary Committee. Astle drafted a bill, which he submitted with cosponsorship by Forehand and Del. Kenneth H. Masters (D-Prince George's), a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. It passed the House and then the Senate.

So it's now the law in Maryland: Service personnel being transferred may not be charged more than "(1) 30 days' rent after written notice and proof of the assignment is given to the landlord; and (2) the cost of repairing damage to the premises caused by an act or omission of the tenant.