Maryland prepares to lay down new laws

Hundreds of state rules go into effect tomorrow

September 30, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The state government is set to put into law what has been obvious for more than a century: Lacrosse is Maryland's official team sport.

That law and hundreds of others passed by the General Assembly in the spring go into effect tomorrow.

Some are far-reaching, such as the revamping of the state's minority business program. Some, such as anti-spam legislation, tackle new pressing issues. Others clean up legal language, modify local laws or remove obsolete statutes from the books.

The minority business laws will require most state agencies to set aside at least 10 percent of their contracts for small businesses and minority contractors, a major change from the previous Minority Business Enterprise program, which merely set procurement goals.

The new laws, which are products of a commission created by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and chaired by Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, also create the Office of the Secretary of Minority Affairs and require requests for proposals and bids to include specific information about minority business goals and participation.

`A bold move'

Wayne Frazier, president of the Maryland Washington Minority Contractors Association, said some state agencies would be hard pressed to meet the requirements, which should be a big help for minority-owned businesses.

"I praise the governor for doing that," he said. "That was a bold move."

Sharon R. Pinder, director of the Governor's Office of Minority Affairs, said the set-aside program will allow small firms to compete as prime contractors, not subcontractors, a key to helping them grow and develop.

The new law also bolsters enforcement, elevating Pinder's office to Secretary of Minority Affairs. That, she said, will "give me more of a hammer to do what needs to get done."

Another new law is aimed at encouraging redevelopment of abandoned or underused industrial sites known as "brownfields."

Backed by the Ehrlich administration and lauded by business and environmental groups alike, the law expands eligibility for the program, streamlines the approval process and reduces redevelopment costs. It is expected to result in a 35 percent increase in applications from developers and property owners to enter the program.

"The environmental contingent wanted more cleanups and better citizen protection. Business wanted things done faster, and the counties and cities just wanted more," said Dru Schmidt Perkins, executive director of the environmental group 1000 Friends of Maryland and a member of the task force that helped craft the legislation. "We really were able to figure out how to make it a much more efficient program."

A revamped version of Maryland's Heritage Rehabilitation Tax Credit will maintain what the program's proponents say is a valuable economic development tool but institute safeguards to prevent the credit from being too costly to taxpayers and its benefits from being overly concentrated in Baltimore.

About $100 million in credits have been issued since 1997, 90 percent of them in Baltimore, where developers have used them to help finance high-profile projects such as the renovation of the Hippodrome Theatre.

The new law limits to 50 percent the share of credits that can go to any one jurisdiction and provides yearly budget control to limit the size of the program. It also requires that at least 10 percent of the credits go to nonprofit groups.

Maryland Historical Trust Director J. Rodney Little said the changes make the program less predictable for developers and will ultimately reduce the amount of rehabilitation taking place.

"It is still a powerful tool for both preservation and economic development, but it is less so," he said.

The new spam law, sponsored by Sen. Robert J. Garagiola, a Montgomery County Democrat, outlaws several techniques Internet vendors use to send unsolicited commercial e-mail and to evade software designed to block them. The law sets penalties ranging from one to five years in prison and fines of $5,000 to $10,000. Repeat offenders face 10 years in prison and fines up to $25,000.

America Online spokesman Nicholas Graham said Maryland is the second state, behind Virginia, to pass a strict spam law. He said AOL and other Internet service providers worked with Maryland legislators to draft the law and would cooperate with the attorney general and state's attorneys to prosecute offenders.

Stiffer penalties

"The only laws that are going to have the desired effects are those that contain tough criminal penalties," he said. Two new laws are aimed at protecting pedestrians. They raise the maximum fine for passing a stopped school bus from $500 to $1,000 and increase the penalty for motorists who fail to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk. New fees will range from $65 to $500, plus one point against the motorist's driver's license.

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