Expanding abortion access, plugging loopholes in police accountability among the new Maryland laws taking effect Friday

Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS
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The Maryland General Assembly passed 834 bills over 90 days in 2022, ranging from the odd, like a prohibition on declawing cats, to the routine, like expanding transportation options, by the time lawmakers adjourned for the year at midnight April 11.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan allowed 783 to become law — with or without his signature.

Some bills took effect immediately as emergency legislation, while others will become law later this year or afterward. But 264 laws covering abortion, education, policing, pollution, transportation and many other topics taking effect Friday.

Here’s a glimpse at some of them:

Transportation expansion

Under one new law, the Maryland Transportation Authority will look for ways to fulfill the Maryland Area Regional Commuter Cornerstone Plan, which was created to ensure that the agency reaches its commuter rail project goals.

Additionally, the Maryland Transit Authority will establish a team to determine how to maintain sustainable funding sources for regional consumer rail updates and expansions, including building new lines between Perryville and Newark, Delaware, and a new rail service to Alexandria, Virginia. The starting destination for the Alexandria track is not specified.

A third track will be added between Rockville and Germantown, and the existing Camden and Penn lines will be upgraded.

In mid-June, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., were officially eliminated from the pool of U.S. cities eligible to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Baltimore and Washington combined bids in April to increase their likelihood of selection. Some speculate transportation concerns knocked the region out of the running.

Also starting Friday, the Maryland Transit Authority is required to provide free rides to Baltimore City Public School students for on- and off-campus school-related or extracurricular activities between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Sen. Cory McCray, the bill’s sponsor, said the law applies to bus, light rail and Baltimore Metro Subway Link systems.

The same policy is extended to kids participating in Baltimore City YouthWorks during the summer work period as they commute to activities in the program.

Abortion access

As of Friday physicians, nurse practitioners, nurse-midwifes, licensed certified midwives, physician assistants and other certified licensed medical practitioners will be able to provide abortion procedures as access across the country tightens due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Until now, those medical providers only were able to prescribe pills to trigger medication abortions, which are performed until around the 10th week of pregnancy. Beyond that point, pregnant individuals generally undergo in-clinic abortion procedures.

In Maryland, abortions can be provided until the fetus reaches viability, which typically occurs around the 24th week.

In addition to expanding the amount of eligible qualified providers across the state, the Abortion Care Access Act requires the state to budget $3.5 million annually to fund a training program for clinicians in the state who are interested in performing abortion services beyond medication.

Though the law goes into effect Friday, the spending is not mandated until July 2023. Democratic lawmakers pleaded with Hogan to release the program’s funding early, in light of a leaked Supreme Court opinion on the Roe ruling. Hogan declined, saying allowing people who aren’t doctors to perform abortions could lower standards for women’s health care.

‘Forever chemicals’

In January 2024, Maryland will prohibit the sale, distribution and use of food packaging, carpeting and fire fighting foam that contains intentionally added PFAS chemicals, also known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances or “forever chemicals.” These chemicals are also often used in cleaning products, nonstick cookware and stain-repellent fabric. Measurable levels of PFAS chemicals have been discovered in Baltimore’s water supply.

Though the bans don’t begin until 2024, the bill becomes law Friday and will require the Maryland Department of Environment to submit a report to the General Assembly by Dec. 31 about tests performed for PFAS chemicals on state waters and the results.

Studies have linked PFAS chemicals to low birth weights, decreased fertility, hormonal issues and increased rates of obesity and high cholesterol, among other health-related problems.

The bill was named the George “Walter” Taylor Act in honor of a firefighter from Southern Maryland who died of metastatic neuroendocrine cancer in 2020.

Increasing police accountability

As of Friday, all law enforcement agencies are required to cooperate with any investigations performed by the Independent Investigations Division of the Attorney General’s Office when a civilian has been fatally shot by a police officer.

Local law enforcement is required to provide the unit with any requested evidence.

This legislation closes loopholes in the investigative portion of the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021, which was put to the test this year. After Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler refused to turn over all evidence following a fatal police shooting in April, Attorney General Brian Frosh sued Gahler, and a Harford County judge ordered its disclosure.

The new law also tightens up the 2021 disciplinary procedure to be used by police accountability boards and charging committees for officers facing misconduct complaints. Each of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions had to create a police accountability board by Friday.

Additionally, the Department of Legislative Services will convene a task force to study the potential for establishing minimum transparency practices for state’s attorneys’ offices, such as collecting information regarding charging and sentencing and creating a structure for how prosecutors gather case information and what data should be made public or kept private.

Other portions of the law, including measures establishing reporting requirements for the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy and the Division of Parole and Probations, will go into effect Oct. 1.

Mental health crises

Maryland will establish a permanent trust fund to maintain its behavioral health crisis response services, including call centers, mobile crisis teams and crisis stabilization centers.

The move comes as 988 officially becomes the national crisis hotline number on July 16.

Restraining students

As of Friday, Maryland public and private school personnel are prohibited from physically restraining students’ ability to move their head, arms, legs or torso as a behavioral health intervention during school hours unless it is necessary to protect their safety or the safety of others.

If physical restraint is used, schools must demonstrate that other intervention methods have failed.

Additionally, secluding a student in a separate room away from their classmates can only be used if a qualified health practitioner is observing the student and determines that’s appropriate. The seclusion room must have locks that only engage when another individual holds them in place or, if electric, automatically unlock if a fire alarm is triggered.

Students may be secluded for a maximum of 30 minutes.

If a student is physically restrained or secluded 10 times during a school year, a school system must review the case to determine if the public or private school could explore alternatives. The school system’s review is to be shared with the school and the state education department.

The bill becomes law seven months after the U.S. Department of Justice reached a settlement with the Frederick County Public School system following a federal investigation that found the system discriminated against students with disabilities by disproportionately using physical restraint and seclusion in largely nonemergency situations.

According to a December 2021 news release, the investigation found thousands of examples of the use of restraint and seclusion in 2 1/2 school years. Students with disabilities accounted for 100% of seclusions and 99% of restraints in the school district, despite comprising 11% of the student population.

In a settlement with the government, the school system agreed to end the practice of seclusion, report and evaluate all incidents of physical restraint, train school staff on appropriate behavioral intervention plans and offer counseling and education services to students who had been subjected to the district’s discriminatory practices.