ANNAPOLIS – Be a little more careful Sunday.
That’s when more than 330 bills passed by the state’s General Assembly take effect. The wide range of new laws affects children, police, the schools and the environment statewide.
Among the high-profile measures is a new helmet law for children, much like one used in several counties. Children under 16 will now be required to wear helmets while riding their bicycles. Violators will get bicycle safety information and a warning.
“We need to have the law in Maryland,” said Roger Harrell, chief of injury prevention for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “We’re trying to get the message out to children that we want them to be safe.”
Lawmakers enacted Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s bill to speed up death penalty appeals. The change — part of the governor’s campaign for safe streets — removes one legal step in cases where a defendant has been ruled incompetent.
A number of other laws tighten up existing rules and expand the roles of police, local school districts and hunters.
Maryland’s version of the nationally-publicized “Megan’s Law” requires agencies to notify police and neighbors in writing about child sex offenders moving into their area.
Domestic abuse victims will gain ground. Police officers with probable cause to believe that someone battered a spouse or companion are now allowed to arrest without a warrant. The law also gives victims two days instead of 12 hours to file a domestic abuse claim.
“This is really a welcomed piece of legislation,” said Jeff Kelly, spokesman for the Anne Arundel County Police. “One of the reasons that this will help is that often times victims will have to be hospitalized. Now that the time was expanded, it gives us a tremendous chance to make a claim against an abuser.”
One law will change the way drunk driving is interpreted. Now, drivers will no longer be able to challenge a driving-while- intoxicated arrest if they are found to have a blood alcohol concentration higher than the 0.10 percent legal limit. “This way, there will be no argument allowed,” Kelly said.
All drivers now will be prohibited from tinting their windows beyond the level that manufacturers provide. The bill was designed in response to police who complained they couldn’t see inside cars that had been pulled over.
“It’s really an officer safety issue,” said Kelly. “When an officer can’t see inside, it makes the situation much more dangerous.”
Still another new law bans covers or tinting around license plates on all vehicles. SCHOOLS
Another law repeals the mandatory-arrest policy for students who wear beepers on school property. Law enforcement officers now will use their discretion to either question or arrest students wearing beepers.
The revision comes after a Baltimore student was arrested even though he was given a beeper by a family member who needed to contact him during the school day.
Maryland’s schools will be required to spend 180 days or 1,080 hours in session from now on. Previously, the law required both, and presented logistical problems during especially bad seasons.
After the winter of 1994, when some counties had more than 15 days off for snow and ice, school systems used extended days and different starting times to meet the requirements.
“This was an effort on the part of legislators to clarify the law,” said Ronald Peiffer, spokesman at the state Department of Education.
Also, county schools may close in inclement weather without having to consult the state Board of Education. SOCIAL SERVICES
A number of services will be modified after Oct. 1.
The state Social Services Administration establishes a Kinship Care Program, giving first priority to parents in placing at-risk children separated from their families. If a parent is not available, priority would be to place the child with a blood relative.
The State Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is revived after having lost its funding in 1991. It will give food distribution agencies matching funds to get equipment and supplies. HUNTING
One new regulation prevents some game bird hunting on Sunday. Also, limits on mallard ducks will be dropped in order to maintain the “economic vitality” of regulated shooting areas, most on the Eastern Shore. HEALTH
Among new health laws is the Mothers’ and Infants’ Health Security Act. It requires most health agencies to allow mothers who have just delivered to have a 48-hour hospital stay, unless insurers can offer a home care nurse visit after a routine natural childbirth.
Also, the law sets standards in how pre- and post-natal services are reviewed by insurance companies.
On the matter of AIDS, another law will require both pretest counseling and informed consent before health care workers can take samples for HIV tests. CNS reporters Cynthia Johansson, Lisa Fine and Jayson T. Blair contributed to this story.