A flurry of new laws take effect in the region Oct. 1, with the vast majority in Maryland. They include the nation’s first statewide ban on foam food containers, and a trio of laws passed earlier this year to address violence against people of color.
Two laws strengthen the state’s hate crime statutes to make it easier to prosecute aggressors, and a third requires all police officers to get detailed training at least once every three years on recognizing, responding and reporting hate crimes.
Until Thursday, hate crime convictions hinged on proof an act was motivated entirely by racist or discriminatory beliefs. The threshold was so high that the courts dismissed hate crime charges against the man who stabbed Richard Collins III, the Black Army lieutenant who was attacked, unprovoked, as he waited for a bus at the University of Maryland at College Park in 2017.
His killer, a White University of Maryland student named Sean Urbanski who was a member of a Facebook group “Alt Reich: Nation” and had racist memes stored on his phone, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2019.
But judge dismissed the hate crime charge against him because prosecutors had not proved Collins’s race was the sole reason he was murdered. Under the new law, race and identity need only be a “substantial part” of the motivation behind an act of hate.
A second law broadens the definition of a hate crime to include symbols such as nooses and swastikas that are designed to intimidate someone. The law, years in the making, comes from a spate of incidents in Anne Arundel County, which has the highest concentration of hate crimes and hate bias incidents in the state. Violating the law carries a penalty of up to three years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The state’s anti-discrimination law is expanded to include hair texture as an element of racial identity, an attempt to bar discrimination against Black hairstyles by employers and others. It follows a national wave of legislation prompted by the story of a New Jersey high school wrestler who in 2018 was forced to cut his dreadlocks to compete.
In D.C., Oct. 1 marks the first day of several tax revisions pushed by D.C. lawmakers after the coronavirus pandemic caused a steep drop in city revenue. The most wide-reaching is a 10-cent-per-gallon hike in the gas tax, which brings the District’s fuel tax to a similar level as Maryland and Virginia. Other changes apply to wealthy estates and tax breaks for companies.
In Virginia, new laws typically take effect July 1, at the start of the state’s fiscal year. One of the few laws taking effect Oct. 1 concerns electric scooter rentals. Local governments had until Thursday to adopt regulations for scooter rentals, including any requirement that they be licensed. The law makes clear that rental companies are free to operate in localities that did not act by that deadline.
The more than 300 laws taking effect in Maryland include tougher penalties for strangulation, which domestic violence advocates say could help authorities intervene before situations turn fatal, and repealing the state’s antiquated sodomy laws, which the Supreme Court invalidated for consenting couples nationwide in 2003.
One statute requires public universities to develop detailed plans to handle infectious outbreaks in on campus. In 2018, the University of Maryland waited to tell students about an adenovirus outbreak that eventually sickened about 45 students and killed Olivia Paregol, a freshman for whom the law is named. An outside review determined the outbreak should have been handled as a campuswide emergency.
And amid a rise in demand for takeout and delivery, Maryland will officially ban the use of foam containers as of Thursday, the final step in implementing a 2019 law. The ban on polystyrene was delayed from July until October to lessen the burden on the state’s restaurant industry, which has been reeling from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Many businesses have already switched to compostable or recyclable containers, partly driven by local foam bans but also by consumer demand for more sustainable options. Ban advocates argued the foam damages the environment, clogging up waterways and filling landfills with trash that is not fully biodegradable. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) declined to sign the bill in 2019, letting it become law without his signature.
Laura Vozzella contributed to this report