An article yesterday about new laws in the area reported that Maryland had raised its minimum drinking age to 20 effective July 1. While that is technically correct, the law in question was passed in 1982 and raised the minimum age to 21. But it phased in the increase over a three-year period, so that no one already eligible to drink was affected. The same rule still applies: to drink legally in Maryland one must have been born before July 1, 1964.
The drinking age in suburban Washington will increase, Maryland bank customers will probably pay a host of new credit card fees and District motorists are required to strap young children into safety car seats under new laws that become effective today.
In Virginia the beer-drinking age will increase to 19 and in Maryland it will rise to 20, leaving the District the only area jurisdiction where 18-year-olds can legally purchase beer.
The most far-reaching of the more than 650 new laws in Maryland is a sweeping deregulation measure that permits the state's banks to levy a host of additional charges, including credit card membership fees and late-payment penalties. Maryland banks also will be allowed to charge a variable interest rate, rather than the previous fixed rate, to customers who take out loans for boats, cars and house renovations. The state's interest rate ceiling remains at 24 percent.
The District today joins Virginia and 39 other states that have enacted child-restraint laws. Children under age 3 riding in a vehicle with D.C. tags must be strapped into a child safety car seat, while those between the age of 3 and 6 must wear seat belts. Motorists caught violating the city's child safety seat law are subject to a $25 fine.
For Virginians, a new beer-drinking age and discount pricing in some state-run liquor stores in the Washington suburbs are among the most significant results of the 600 bills signed into law by Gov. Charles S. Robb.
In Maryland the higher age for drinking and buying wine and beer is a product of a law passed by the 1982 legislature. The legal age for liquor purchases remains 21 in both states and the District of Columbia.
Beginning today, 19 becomes Virginia's new minimum age for drinking and buying beer, which means that the state's estimated 50,000 18-year-olds, who could buy a beer in a restaurant yesterday, must wait until their next birthday to drink legally in the state.
Earlier this year, anti-drunk driving groups failed in their effort to change the drinking age to 21, the current age for purchase of wine and liquor. Those groups, led by the Northern Virginia chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, have said they will try again in January when the General Assembly reconvenes.
Tougher drunk driving penalties take effect in Maryland. One new law gives a police officer the choice of ordering a drunk driving suspect to take either a blood or breathalyzer test. Previously that choice was left to the motorist. Others laws increase the points against a driving record for drunk driving offenses.
In an attempt to persuade Virginians to stop crossing the Potomac to buy lower-priced liquor, the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) commission will institute a flexible-pricing system in nine Northern Virginia outlets. The stores, located in Arlington, Fairfax and Alexandria, were chosen for their proximity to major thoroughfares, according to ABC spokesman Thomas L. Weedon.
"We plan to be competitive without matching our competition penny for penny in every case," said Weedon. "We want to recapture some of the business we've lost over the years."
For years, many Virginia residents have routinely flouted state law limiting the importation of liquor by driving into the District and Maryland, where liquor prices are lower. According to Weedon, a recent study showed that Virginia loses $13 million in annual revenue from liquor sales to neighboring jurisdictions, chiefly the District of Columbia.
To recoup some of that money, the specially-selected state stores will offer discounts on various half-gallon size brands Thursdays through Saturdays. A 10th new "superstore" with a vastly expanded inventory and the discount prices is scheduled to open July 22 in Vienna.
Virginia today also joins 12 states and the District in its adoption of a Natural Death Act that grants terminally ill people the right to order that their lives not be prolonged by artificial means. The law allows a patient to make a "living will" in the presence of two witnesses instructing doctors not to use life-prolonging machines, such as respirators, when death is imminent. The declaration, which may be made orally or in writing, can be revoked at any time.
Other new statutes increase a variety of user fees. The cost of a Virginia marriage license will jump from $17 to $20 while the cost of filing for divorce will rise from $32 to $50.
In addition, a $1 surcharge has been added to the cost of motor vehicle licenses as part of a so-called "one for life" law. The additional $3.5 million will be distributed to the state's revenue-strapped emergency medical and rescue squads to be used for training programs and new equipment.
Several new criminal laws toughen penalties for crimes of "hate-violence" and poisonings similar to last year's Tylenol murders in Chicago. It will be a separate crime in Virginia to deface a cemetery or religious building with a swastika or to adulterate food, drugs or drink. Another statute empowers judges to consider a "victim impact statement" prior to sentencing a defendant in felony cases.
In Maryland, a new law requires judges and juries to see a victim impact statement before sentencing in murder cases. Before today, consideration of such statements was optional.
That law, as well as another raising from 15 to 25 years the time persons convicted in death penalty cases must serve in prison before being eligible for parole, is a result of intense lobbying by the Stephanie Ann Roper Committee. The committee was formed last year after the brutal murder of Roper, a 22-year-old college senior from Prince George's County whose killers will be eligible for parole after 12 years.
Maryland's maximum weekly unemployment benefit rises from $153 to $160 today, and a new state Department of Employment and Training is scheduled to begin operation.
Also beginning today, Maryland drivers will have to pass an eye exam every four years to get their licenses renewed.
Getting a divorce will be somewhat easier in Maryland. The waiting period for a contested divorce is dropping from three to two years.
In Washington loaner child car seats are available through the Department of Motor Vehicles for those who do not choose or cannot afford to purchase them. The Maryland General Assembly passed a similar law earlier this year, but it does not become effective until Jan. 1.