Motorists in Maryland face stiffer penalties for running red lights beginning today, and state lawmakers can no longer count on lobbyists to pick up their lunch tab as a host of new laws take effect.
Drivers caught running red lights will receive two points instead of one starting today. Three points accumulated over a two-year period triggers a warning from the state that a motorist's driving privileges are in jeopardy.
Montgomery County officials used the timing of the change in penalties to announce a crackdown on scofflaws, one that will soon include remote cameras to snap pictures of offenders' vehicles.
State lawmakers who approved the stiffer penalties also decided to ban lobbyists from paying for legislators' meals when they meet one on one. They also limited the ability of lawmakers to take jobs in state or local government.
Other laws taking effect today establish a patients' bill of rights and authorize "peace orders" that allow someone to seek protection from stalkers and others who might not be subject to restraining orders under domestic violence laws.
It is now against the law for anyone under age 15 to get married in Maryland. Assisted suicide is also outlawed, and there is a ban on using laser pointers to harass people.
Another law taking effect today allows unannounced inspections of home day-care centers. The law was prompted by the deaths of two baby boys who were smothered by their bedding at a home day-care center on the Eastern Shore last year.
Also, as of today, all newborns in Maryland will have their hearing screened. Proponents of the move said it will allow physicians to detect and treat hearing-loss problems much sooner.
The ban on one-on-one meals is a first for Maryland, though many lobbyists have said it is nonsensical that they still are allowed to buy dinners for groups of legislators. They said the new provision helps well-heeled lobbyists who can afford to spend a lot of money and limits opportunities for lobbyists without much money to make their case to lawmakers.
A special commission studying lobbying is looking at the new restrictions. One of the members, Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore), noted that legislators receive $30 a day for meals during General Assembly sessions, making free meals from lobbyists unnecessary.
"We get enough money to cover nutrition," she said.
To help crack down on red-light runners, Montgomery County officials said they plan to mount 10 roadside cameras by the end of the month. A citation will be mailed to the car's owner within 15 days, along with pictures of the car and its license plate.
Last year, Montgomery County police issued about 6,000 citations to drivers caught running red lights.
More than 3,300 have been issued this year. The state will suspend the license of a driver who accumulates eight points over a two-year period.
Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose urged motorists to "not depend on law enforcement to make you obey the rules. The real goal is to be individually responsible."
The new Patients' Bill of Rights allows health maintenance organization patients with chronic conditions to visit specialists without referrals from their primary care doctors. Patients will have access to medicine not typically covered by HMOs, and managed care insurers will be required to provide a home nurse visit within 24 hours after a patient's mastectomy or testicle removal or allow those patients to stay in the hospital for 48 hours.
The new "peace orders" are designed to fill gaps in current domestic violence law. They were intended to offer protection in dating situations, but the legislature expanded the law to allow anyone with a legitimate fear of another person to seek a court order prohibiting contact by that person.
District Court Chief Clerk Patricia Platt said the new law is an example of "government working together to prevent further violence. . .instead of just punishing it after the fact."