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New Maryland laws affect heroin response, divorces, pot charges

A kit with the opioid overdose-blocking medication naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan. A new Maryland law makes the drug available without an individual prescription and provides first responders immunity. (Mel Evans/AP)

Maryland residents face tougher penalties for drunken driving as of Thursday and have new opportunities to clear marijuana-related charges from their records, reverse the effects of opiate overdoses and, in some cases, avoid prolonged divorce battles.

Those are the highlights of several hundred laws that took effect Thursday in Maryland, most of which were approved by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) during his first year of office.

Here is a look at what the new laws do.

Expand availability of overdose antidote

Maryland is among the states responding to rising heroin and opioid deaths by expanding overdose-reversing medication.

Naloxone is now available without an individual prescription to those licensed to administer it, including volunteers who have been trained.

Paramedics, firefighters and other first responders authorized to spray or inject the drug are immune from lawsuits under an expansion of the state’s Good Samaritan law.

Relax pot laws

People arrested for possessing marijuana and related paraphernalia can get their charges dismissed if they can prove to a court they need the items for medical reasons.

Maryland last year removed criminal penalties for possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana.

A separate law also allows people to clear possession convictions and other crimes from their records if their actions would no longer be considered illegal.

Boost scrutiny ofprison-guard applicants

Aspiring state corrections officers must now take lie-detector tests. The law is part of the legislative response to the 2013 scandal at the Baltimore City Detention Center, where 27 corrections officers were accused of aiding a violent prison gang’s drug-trafficking and money-laundering scheme.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services predicts that the polygraph exams could eliminate more than half of the finalists in future hiring pools.

Boost DUI consequences

Drunk drivers who kill others in car crashes will have to stay off the road longer.

Depending on the level of intoxication, first-time offenders will lose driving privileges for six months to a year, instead of 45 to 90 days. Those who get into a second deadly crash with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or higher, nearly the double the legal limit, will lose their licenses.

Acknowledge transgender identities

Maryland will make it easier for transgender and intersex residents to receive new birth certificates reflecting their gender identities.

Changing the listed gender will now require a letter from a medical professional instead of a court order. Hogan, who has been trying to avoid wading into social issues, allowed the bill to become law without his signature.

Grant quicker divorces

Maryland is making it easier to end marriages that do not involve young children or messy property disputes.

A new law allows courts to grant divorces without the standard one-year separation when both partners agree and do not have minor children.

Other new initiatives

●State officials will consider boosting the speed limit on some highway stretches from 65 mph to 70 mph.

●Residents, lawyers and journalists fighting with government agencies for public records can take complaints to a new Public Information Act compliance board and ombudsman.

●Maryland State Police must develop a yellow alert system for serious hit-and-run cases.