Today, '91 laws go into effect New limits on lobbying and wider seat-belt use are among changes passed by Assembly.

July 01, 1991|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff

Lobbyists and politicians now have to conduct business differently.More children must wear seat belts.And sod has become a full-fledged aqricultural product,all thanks to new laws taking effect today.

July 1 is the starting date for most of the laws passed by the 1991 General Assembly and signed by the governor. Although a few of the session's major bills will not take effect until later, today marks some important changes in the law.

The much-debated reform of Maryland's political campaign laws will take effect, although some provisions will not affect the campaigns already under way in Baltimore, said Rebecca Wicklund, director of candidacy and campaign finance at the state elections board.

The new law places a $6,000 limit on the amount a political action committee can donate to any candidate in a four-year election cycle. A PAC's name, moreover, now must accurately reflect the group's purpose. For example, a furriers' PAC could not call itself Friends of Wildlife. Another provision, which may be the first of its kind in the nation, prohibits lobbyists from acting as fund-raisers for candidates.

All together, the campaign reforms seek to correct the public's ,, "perception" that politicians are tainted by money, legislators have said.

In the vehicle-safety arena, the seat belt law is expanding to cover more people.

Starting today, children under age 10 must wear seat belts. Also, infants and toddlers must ride in auto safety seats until they weigh more than 40 pounds or reach age 4. The old seat belt law had applied to children under age 5 and the safety seat requirement to children under 3.

People who prefer pickup trucks should start buckling up, too. The mandatory seat belt law that already applies to cars affects them now.

Another law closes an apparent loophole that encouraged drunken drivers to leave the scene of a fatal accident. The new law increases the criminal penalty for leaving the scene of an accident that results in injury or death, so that the maximum sentence is identical to that for driving while intoxicated.

Sod looks as green as ever today, but in the eyes of the state it now is defined as an "agricultural product" rather than a "loose material" that is subject to the state's covered-loads law for trucks.

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