ANNAPOLIS – More than 300 new laws — including controversial new restrictions on gun purchases — take effect in Maryland Tuesday.
The gun bill, pushed hard by Gov. Parris N. Glendening during the 1996 General Assembly session, is one of several public safety measures passed. Laws affecting children, motorists, health care and victims of crime and domestic abuse will also take their places in the statute books.
The gun control measure is an emblem to both sides in that debate, even as it becomes law.
Key provisions require a background check and a seven-day waiting period for handgun purchases, which are limited to one a month.
The measure also outlaws “straw” purchases — one person buying a gun for use by another, usually a minor or someone with a criminal record — and denies guns to those convicted of child or spousal abuse. Further, police responding to a domestic violence call may seize guns from that home.
Proponents of restricting handgun sales think Maryland has set an example for the rest of the country.
“This is a tremendous step forward for Maryland and this is model legislation for cracking down on gun trafficking,” said Robin Terry, a spokeswoman for Handgun Control Inc., a national gun control lobbying organization.
However, gun control opponents remain skeptical that the law will be effective and say it sidesteps the state’s crime problem.
Chip Walker, a National Rifle Association spokesman, said Glendening has taken the “politically expedient” route.
“This will be another failed attempt to control crime by passing gun control laws. It will have little effect on crime and two years from now there will be another debate on how to control crime,” Walker said.
A new law requires any passenger under the age of 16 riding in a car, light truck or multipurpose vehicle to be restrained by a child safety seat or seat belt. It expands the current law, which says children under age 4 or those weighing 40 pounds or less must be secured.
Taking effect is a law passed in 1995 that allows the Motor Vehicle Administration to suspend indefinitely the license of anyone who is more than 60 days behind in child support payments. Violators will be notified in writing beforehand, and the suspension will be lifted once the amount owed is paid or if a “good-faith” payment arrangement is worked out.
Also, the state widens its child pornography laws. A new law prohibits using a computer to compile, distribute or solicit portrayals of minors engaged in obscene acts. MOTOR VEHICLES
The Legislature passed a number of laws affecting driver safety, including an aggressive approach to curtail drunk driving.
Drunk or drugged drivers will face longer periods without their licenses. For example, a first-time conviction for driving under the influence could bring up to 6-months’ suspension instead of the current 90-day maximum penalty.
Yet, drivers convicted of drunk driving will be encouraged to take part in the state’s new ignition interlock program, which means reduced suspensions for those choosing to participate. Maryland becomes the 34th state in the nation to adopt such a program.
Drivers must blow into the interlock before starting their cars. If their blood alcohol content is too high, the system prevents the car from starting. The driver also has to retest while the car is moving.
The state also seeks to stop juvenile drinking by suspending licenses of children caught drinking or possessing alcohol on school property. VICTIMS’ RIGHTS
Maryland joins states that allow violent crime victims or their designated representatives to testify orally before state parole boards, which then must consider that testimony before deciding to release a criminal.
Susan Howley of the National Victim Center said parole boards need to hear the voice of those who know best just exactly how dangerous these offenders are.
Also, a new law requires courts and police to enforce domestic violence protective orders issued by other states.
State lawmakers sought to improve Marylanders’ health with new regulations affecting insurance providers and health maintenance organizations.
These companies now may not use domestic violence as a reason to deny insurance claims. Also, the insurers must provide coverage for all stages of reconstructive breast surgery following a mastectomy.
The state also expanded the list of communicable diseases that must be reported. In addition to hepatitis, tuberculosis and various sexually transmitted diseases, the list now includes Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and pertussis, or whooping cough, among others. CRIME
The Legislature enacted other crime-related measures besides the new gun-control law.
For example, the state abolished the “year-and-a-day” rule regarding homicide and manslaughter prosecution, meaning either of these crimes now may be prosecuted no matter how much time has elapsed since the crime was committed.
Also, legislators increased the penalties for homicide by vehicle or boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol — increasing the maximum prison term from one year to three years and raising the maximum fine from $1,000 to $5,000.
Capital News Service reporters Sheryl Kennedy, Gabriel Margasak and Kristina M. Schurr contributed to this report.