Among the litany of things the coronavirus pandemic affected this year was the Maryland General Assembly’s ability to finish the business of the people in Annapolis. Social distancing and concerns about spreading COVID-19 forced the state Senate and House of Delegates to end their annual session a month early. And no decision has been made yet as to when, or if, state lawmakers might reconvene for a special session this summer or fall. That all hangs in the balance, with the coronavirus tipping the scale.
But before the gavel came down on its truncated session, the General Assembly pushed across more than 660 bills. Some were signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), some were vetoed (and could be overridden later), and some moved through with no action by the governor. The vast majority of the state’s new laws will go into effect Oct. 1, but there were a handful that kicked in on July 1.
In educational developments, a new law significantly expands exemptions for nonresident tuition paid by people under the Maryland Dream Act. People must have attended a Maryland high school, graduated from a Maryland high school or received a Maryland GED, and registered within six years after graduating from a Maryland high school or receiving a Maryland GED. The bill also grandfathers in people who, on or after June 15, 2012, were exempt from paying the out-of-state or out-of-county tuition rate at a public institution of higher education.
Another new law expands nonresident tuition exemptions for military personnel, as well as their spouses and dependents. To remain exempt from paying nonresident tuition, a spouse or financially dependent child of an active-duty service member would have to remain continuously enrolled and living in Maryland during enrollment. That requirement for Maryland residence during enrollment is a new condition for those who are currently eligible.
And regarding special education, a new law creates the post of special education ombudsman whom parents, students and educators can go to for help about special education rights and services. The ombudsman is required to create a toll-free phone number to assist people seeking information or advice about special education. They must also submit a report that includes specified information by July 1, 2022.
Another new law creates a task force to examine how to store the audio and video recorded by police officers’ body-worn cameras. The bill stipulates that the task force must report its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly by Dec. 1.
A bill which passed expands the criteria for how money from the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund can be used, specifically identifying water quality, climate resiliency and flood control. A related new law permits the Maryland Department of the Environment to take charge if it finds any dams, reservoirs or other waterway constructions that are in imminent danger of failure. Furthermore, the owner of any such property has to reimburse the agency.
National Guard tuition assistance is also among the newest state laws. An eligible active member of the Maryland National Guard may now get 100% of tuition expenses reimbursed, up from the previous 50%. It also expands eligibility to include any member who holds a commission in the Maryland National Guard.
Anne Arundel County may now issue licenses to barber shops and beauty salons so they can serve customers alcohol during business hours. A similar law passed for St. Mary’s in 2017, which allows hair salons and arts establishments to sell or serve beer and wine. Three years ago, this passed despite the objections of the local license beverage owners association, St. Mary’s County Commissioner John O’Connor (R) and a community activist group.
Finally, Marylanders can now get tax exemptions for certain hearing aids. The new law also repealed an exemption for a replacement cord for an artificial hearing device. That’s now covered as well.
If the pandemic’s grip loosens and the General Assembly deems it safe to gather again later in the year, you can count on the senators and delegates to push out some more new legislation. It would be a strong signal that things will have gotten back to normal in Annapolis and throughout the state.