Start of month means many new laws now in force
Wednesday, 02 October 2013 11:49

Gun, seat belt, cell phone laws in effect Oct. 1

by Ben Boehl

    Starting in October, talking on your cell phone while driving can cause you to see police lights in your rear-view mirror.
    As the new month begins, many new laws are going into effect across Maryland.
    Among the high-profile new laws: the Firearm Safety Act, which bans assault weapons and creates stricter background checks; a law making use of a hand-held cell phone while driving a primary offense; and new seat belt safety laws that require everyone, including adults, to wear seat beats in the front and back seats of a vehicle.
    To many, the most controversial bill to emerge from the 2013 General Assembly session was the Firearm Safety Act.
    The bill passed the House of Delegates by a 78-61 vote, with Del. John Olszewski Jr. and Michael Weir Jr. voting against the bill. Del. Joseph “Sonny” Minnick was absent during that vote.
    In the Senate, the bill passed 28-19, with Sen. Norman Stone voting against.
    A week before the law went into effect, the Maryland General Assembly Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) held a hearing to review emergency regulations proposed by the Maryland State Police to implement the provisions of the bill.
  

At nearby Lawyers’ Mall, gun-rights supporters held a rally to protest the bill. One of those on hand was Dundalk resident and 6th District House of Delegates candidate Bob Long.
    The Republican hopeful said that there was a good turnout, considering it was in the middle of the day and people had to take off work.
    Long noted a new requirement in the state police regulations that in order to obtain a gun license, a person must train at a gun range.
    Long wondered if that is a realistic requirement, as there are a limited amount of gun ranges throughout the state.
    “If someone in Baltimore City does not have transportation,” he asked, “how are they going to be able to get to a gun range?”
    Long is hopeful that the National Rifle Association will take the state to court over this law. He also raised the possibility of trying to petition the law to referendum as opponents of the “Dream Act” and same-sex marriage did in 2012.
    However; both of those laws were upheld by the voters of Maryland in the November election, and Long is worried the name of this gun law could help it be approved by the voters too.
    “One of the problems is that it is known as the Firearm Safety Act,” Long said. “Everyone is for gun safety but this is not going to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.”
    The passage of Senate Bill 339 - Use of Wireless Communication Device - now makes driving while using a hand-held cell phone a primary offense.    
    A similar law was passed in 2010 that made texting while driving a primary offense, but driving with a hand-held cellphone  was a secondary offense — enforceable only when a driver has been stopped for another reason.
    As a primary offense, the use of a hand-held cell phone will now be sufficient cause in itself for a traffic stop.
    The bill passed in the House 108-29, with the three local delegates voting in favor of the bill. Stone voted for the bill in the Senate.
    “It is a long time coming,” Stone said. “It was a compromise [in the 2010 law] only to have cell phones as a secondary offense.”
    Stone added that this is an important safety measure that he said can save lives.
    “We all find ourselves answering our phones in the car, but sometimes we talk for a long time and it can lead to a safety issue.”
    John Arnick, a long-time delegate from Dundalk, was a strong proponent of making cell phone use while driving illegal.
    Arnick, who died in 2006 after resigning from the House of Delegates to take another position in state government, introduced cell phone legislation in six consecutive sessions, only to see them killed in committee.
    Another law affecting Maryland motorists is the Seat Belts and Child Safety Seats Law. It requires all adults in the back seat of a vehicle to wear a seat belt; however; this will be a secondary offense.
    In addition, children under the age of 8 and who are less than 4’9” are required to be in a child safety seat. This law is also a secondary offense.
    Also in effect as of Oct. 1 is a law regulating the use of fertilizers. For homeowners, it requires that:
•University of Maryland fertilizer recommendations are to be followed when applying nitrogen and phosphorus to lawns. (Seasonal and yearly fertilizer recommendations are available at www.extension.umd.edu/hgic.)
•Fertilizer that lands on sidewalks or driveways must be swept back onto the grass or cleaned up.
•Lawn fertilizer applications must be kept 10 to 15 feet from waterways.
•Fertilizer may not be used to de-ice walkways and driveways.
•Lawn fertilizer applications are banned between Nov. 15 and March 1 and when heavy rain is predicted.
•Phosphorus may only be applied to lawns if soil test results indicate it is needed or when establishing, patching or renovating a lawn.
    Information on the full range of new laws taking effect Oct. 1 can be found on various pages at the state government website, www.maryland.gov.