BWI to change name as new laws take effect Saturday

September 27, 2005|By Jennifer Skalka | Jennifer Skalka,Sun reporter

With hardly a noticeable change as yet, one of the area's major airports enters a new era Saturday when a state law goes into effect renaming it Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

It will take months - maybe years - to redo all of the airport's signs, officials say. Shuttle buses, too, will slowly change over to the new name as they are repainted on their normal schedule. And an on-site memorial to Marshall, who was the nation's first African-American Supreme Court justice and a Baltimore native, is still in the planning phase.

Officials wouldn't provide an estimated cost for this slow metamorphosis, but a fiscal note attached to the bill indicates it could cost up to $2 million. A new airport logo will be revealed during a news conference at the airport today.

"The overall changes will be phased in over time," said Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for the Maryland Aviation Administration.

The airport name change proposal is one of about 400 new state laws to go into effect Saturday. Ranging from the controversial to the mundane, the laws tackle a variety of matters from hepatitis C testing for boxers and kick boxers to a salary increase to $80,000 for the sheriff of Washington County.

Several new teen-driving laws are being heralded as a way to make state roads safer for drivers of all ages. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. sponsored two such bills.

One requires that the 18-month timetable for a provisional license be restarted if a teen violates the midnight-to-5-a.m. curfew or mandatory seat belt requirements. Another extends the learner's permit period from four months to six.

Del. William A. Bronrott, a Montgomery County Democrat and proponent of tougher teen driving laws, co-sponsored two other proposals that become law Saturday. The first prohibits teens younger than age 18 from using cell phones while driving if they have a learner's permit or provisional license, except to make emergency calls. The penalty for violating the law includes the suspension of driving privileges for up to 90 days.

Another Bronrott proposal requires teens to spend 60 hours of practice time in a car with a parent or adult, up from 40 hours. Ten of the 60 hours must be driven at night.

Bronrott noted that traffic accidents are the No. 1 cause of death and disabling injury of teenagers in the country. "There's no question that passage of each of these bills and these bills as a package are going to save lives," he said. "This is a huge victory for any parent who is concerned about the health and safety and welfare of their teens behind the wheel."

Another new law that prompted debate and discussion during the General Assembly session, but is now being praised on many fronts, provides protections for witnesses in criminal cases. The law allows the use of out-of-court hearsay statements in some cases, and increased penalties against those who threaten witnesses.

"This is a historic milestone in Maryland criminal law," said Alan Friedman, director of legislative relations for the governor. "It was a huge battle for two years."

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said she wasn't satisfied with the law, which she has called a "toothless tiger," and will work with the governor and legislators to make it stronger next session. Jessamy believes the hearsay exception passed by Maryland lawmakers does not go far enough. It limits hearsay to electronically recorded or sworn statements and doesn't allow oral statements.

She said another significant problem with the law is that it is limited to felony cases, which excludes many child-abuse cases and domestic-violence cases.

Still, Jessamy offered some praise for the effort.

"We consider it a good step toward addressing a very serious problem in larger jurisdictions in the state of Maryland; not only in Baltimore City but across the state," Jessamy said.

Another new state law, promoted last session by House Speaker Michael E. Busch, makes it a felony to assault a law enforcement officer. The new penalty for the crime is a maximum of 10 years in prison, a $5,000 fine or both. Lawmakers and law enforcement officials will gather at events around the state today to praise the law.

The new law that might interest boxers and kick boxers requires any applicant for a state license to participate in a contest to submit hepatitis C test results to the State Athletic Commission.jennifer.skalka@baltsun.com

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