Every year, Maryland lawmakers designate the first of October as the day to enact some of the biggest changes to the legal code. Hundreds of new Maryland laws have gone into effect today, Thursday, October 1, 2020, spanning subjects from civil rights to employment to domestic violence.  Some of the more notable changes are:

  • Protection against hairstyle discrimination – This law expands the definition of “race” used in certain Maryland laws that prohibit discrimination based on traits associated with race. Now, specifically hairstyles are protected. The law states, “‘race includes traits associated with race, including hair texture, afro hairstyles, and protective hairstyles.” The law defines protective hairstyles as those including braids, twists and dreadlocks.
  • Source-of-income discrimination ban – Marylanders cannot be denied housing based on their source of income, including if that income is from government housing subsidies.
  • Expanding hate crime laws – Bills taking effect in Maryland will change some legal standards regarding hate crimes, making it easier to convict someone.  The 2nd Lieutenant Richard Collins III Law holds that hate does not have to be the sole motivation for a hate crime.  This law comes after a judge threw out a hate crime charge against a white man in the killing of a Black college student, Richard Collins III, on the University of Maryland campus. The judge ruled that prosecutors didn’t meet their legal burden of showing that racial hatred was the only motivation to fatally stab Collins, a Bowie State University student.  Under another new bill, hate crimes now include the use of items or symbols to threaten or intimidate. Items and symbols could include a depicted noose or swastika.
  • Changes to notary law – The new law enhances the recordkeeping requirements of notaries public, including: details of each notarial act performed by the notary public (the date and time of the notarial act, a description of the record presented for notarization, how the individuals were identified, and the fee charged); how the records must be stored; and for how long the records must be stored (10 years from the last entry in your journal).
  • Strangulation becomes a felony – Strangulation will be a felony after advocates related it to domestic violence.
  • Suspension of driver’s licenses – The state can no longer suspend someone’s driver’s license because of unpaid fines and fees charged by a court. The new law says anyone who owes more than $150 and can’t afford court-ordered payments may be eligible for a payment plan.  The law applies retroactively to thousands of Marylanders whose licenses were suspended because they couldn’t pay, Attorney General Brian Frosh said.
  • Therapy dogs in court – Courts are instructed to set up a program that makes therapy or support dogs available to children who act as witnesses in many circuit court proceedings.
  • Vulnerable adult protections – Causing severe emotional stress to a vulnerable adult is a crime punishable by years of jail time or a fine up to $10,000. Making maliciously deceptive or misleading statements, harming a vulnerable adult’s pet or maliciously sharing personal identifying information are covered under this law.
  • Equal pay protection expansion – The new law prohibits an employer from taking any adverse employment action or retaliating against an employee who asks about their own wages. Employers also can’t ask about an applicant’s wage history — although candidates can still offer that information.  Maryland also will require the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission to conduct training to recognize, report and respond to hate crimes for entrance-level police training and at least every three years for in-service police training.
  • Styrofoam ban – A food business or school may not sell or serve food in Styrofoam containers.
  • University and college disease outbreak plans – Maryland’s public colleges will be required to submit an outbreak response plan to the state health department each year, starting next year.

For a more expansive list of Maryland’s new laws, visit the Maryland General Assembly’s website.

If you have any questions or concerns about how these new laws will affect you, please contact an attorney at Azrael Franz.