Body armor limits in effect

331 other Md. laws passed this year go into effect today

October 01, 2001|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Criminals convicted of drug trafficking or violent crimes will need special permission to purchase bulletproof vests under a new state law that takes effect today.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening made prohibitions on body armor a priority during the 2001 legislative session, which ended in April.

Glendening had proposed a broader ban, which would have made it illegal to own or wear bulletproof clothing without a permit. Law enforcement officers, private detectives and other selected groups would have been excluded.

Lawmakers scaled back the governor's proposal, saying that it was too restrictive.

"To take small steps, you often have to propose bold steps," said Michael Morrill, Glendening's communications director.

"There's no reason criminals should be on our streets with more protection than police have," he said. "The new law preserves the legitimate uses of body armor but puts in important safeguards to ensure that those who would abuse it, can't."

Ex-convicts who want to wear bulletproof clothing - for example, those hired as security guards - would have to ask Maryland State Police for a permit. Violators face a fine of up to $5,000 and a jail sentence of up to five years.

It is illegal in Maryland to wear body armor while committing a violent crime.

Glendening said his initiative was prompted by two incidents involving Baltimore police officers.

In April last year, Eric D. Stennett was wearing body armor when a vehicle he was driving collided with a police cruiser. Officer Kevon M. Gavin was killed; Stennett was acquitted of charges stemming from the accident.

In July of last year, Detective David F. Azur was shot in the chest while wearing a bullet-resistant vest. He survived, sustaining a softball-size bruise.

In all, 332 state laws take effect today, regulating everything from the types of crabs that can be imported to the headgear required for in-line skaters.

In an effort to address lead paint contamination in Baltimore's aging houses, lawmakers tightened rules covering landlords and testing labs.

Landlords will now have to remove or cover all chipping or peeling paint to pass a test for lead contamination.

Medical laboratories will have to collect personal information on children tested for lead poisoning, including their age, sex and address, and forward it to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Children who ingest lead through paint chips or dust can suffer developmental disabilities. State officials documented 772 cases of lead poisoning in 1998, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.

Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat active in lead paint issues, said the new law was only a partial solution.

"I would call it an incremental step. I don't believe the landlords opposed this," Rosenberg said.

Another new law requires health insurance companies operating in the state to pay for surgical procedures to treat morbid obesity, defined as being 100 pounds or more above recommended body weight.

The requirement joins a lengthy list of services that insurers must fund, from hair prosthetics for cancer patients to fertility treatments.

Business groups say that Maryland is among the most expensive states for health coverage, due in large part to government requirements.

Advocates say surgery is often a necessary treatment for morbid obesity.

"From the sounds of it, it's long overdue," said Jackie Viteri, a spokeswoman with the American Obesity Association in Washington.

"Weekly, I hear from someone by telephone or by e-mail, asking what they can do," she said. "They've made the attempt to get treatment. They get denied. There's desperation in their voice or in the tone of their words."

A new law extending anti-discrimination protection to homosexuals was supposed to go on the books today but is in limbo because of a petition drive to repeal it.

Glendening pushed hard for the bill, which would ban discrimination in employment, housing, restaurants and hotels based on sexual orientation. But a coalition of family values groups and religious conservatives called collected enough signatures to force a referendum, which will be held in November next year. The law is on hold until then.

"To date, this is the most tangible and also the most substantial injury that TakeBackMaryland has delivered to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and allied community," said Jason Young, a spokesman for Free State Justice, a gay-rights organization. "This is a day Maryland would have taken a step forward in protecting these people's homes and jobs."

Gay-rights activists are challenging the petitions, and a court-appointed special master is examining the validity of the signatures.

Another law, which took effect yesterday, lowered the legal blood-alcohol limit for motorists from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent. State highway signs have been signaling the change.

Sun staff writer Greg Garland contributed to this article.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.