2015 Legislative Watch-Personal Liberty

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Eric Blitz, Vice-Chair, Libertarian Party of Maryland

Eric Blitz reviews legislation relating to personal liberty introduced (as of 2/13) in Maryland’s 2015 General Assembly session. Any opinions expressed are those of the author and not official positions of the Libertarian Party of Maryland.

 Enforcement of Maryland Constitutional Rights

 SB319 provides for reasonable attorneys fees and expenses for prevailing plaintiffs claiming violations of Maryland constitutional rights or Maryland Declaration of Rights, against the State and local governments. The statutory cap of $200,000 in damages against governments would not apply, nor would the cap on contingent fees in such cases. This is an important development in holding the state and its political subdivisions accountable to following the Maryland Constitution and Maryland Declaration of Rights. The bill is cross-filed in the House as HB283 and is set for a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on 2/18 at 1:00 p.m. and 2/25 at 1:00 p.m. in the Senate’s Judiciary Proceedings Committee.

Electronic Cigarettes

SB007 has already been passed by the Senate, with amendments. It adds “components” of Electronic cigarettes (and products to refill or re-supply them) to the general prohibition on sales to minors. The bill originally changed the illegal sale offense from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil offense, decreasing the fines from $1,000 to $300 civil fine on first offense, $500 for subsequent offenses in succeeding 24 months. The amendments retained the misdemeanor criminal status, but also allow the issuance of civil citations by law enforcement, county health officers/designees. The bill also contains the procedural language for civil citations. The bill is cross-filed in the House as HB489 with 20 co-sponsors but the bill (and the Senate amendments) have not yet been considered (it will be heard in both Economic Matters and the Judiciary Committees). Neither House committee has scheduled a hearing as of this date.

HB026 adds electronic cigarettes (vapor included) to the prohibition against indoor smoking that applies to regular cigarettes under the Clean Indoor Air Act. This bill was introduced last year as HB1291, which had 19 co-sponsors and received an unfavorable report from the Economic Matters Committee. It has been assigned to Economic Matters again, which held its hearing on 2/11. To consider vapor in the same category of smoke is ridiculous and if the argument is that the behavior of smoking a vapor electronic in public is demonstrative of smoking regular cigarettes (appearances over substance), then arguably it is a violation of the First Amendment protection of symbolic speech.

Abortion

HB492 is identical to last year’s HB283 and 2013’s HB1213. It makes a series of medical and scientific statements about the pain response of a fetus (unborn child) as a predicate to mandating the medical determination of the age of the fetus (unborn child) and then outlawing abortion after 20 weeks, except in the case of a medical emergency relating to the health of the pregnant woman, and even then the abortion must be performed in such a manner that gives the fetus (unborn child) the best chance of surviving unless doing so would greater risk of death or substantial injury to the pregnant woman (not including psychological or emotional ‘conditions’). The bill also requires a substantial amount of reporting for all abortions by doctors (with penalties for non-compliance) and provides that the pregnant woman or the father can sue for compensatory and punitive damages for the reckless violation of the 20 week abortion mandate in the law, or an attempt to do so. The law also gives a long list of people (including the pregnant woman’s spouse, siblings and parents) and public officials the right to file for injunctive relief against the doctor to stop such an abortion. In 2013 and 2014, this bill has not made it out of committee (or even received a vote) in either the House or the Senate. This year it is sponsored by 20 Republicans and I would not expect it to get out of committee this year.

SB511 is different from HB492, though it still makes abortions over 20 weeks illegal unless there is a substantial risk to health of the pregnant women. The penalty for doctors violating the act is a felony conviction with a fine of $100,000 and up to 10 years in prison. It allows civil actions by the woman, fathers and grandparents for violations. It will be heard in the Senate Finance Committee (?) but no hearing has been scheduled. The bill has 14 co-sponsors.

Medically Assisted Death with Dignity

SB676 allows medical professionals to provide medicines to terminally ill patients (those with a terminal condition that is likely to result in death within 6 months), after a competency evaluation, so that the individual may end their life (through self-administration). The bill has a very significant set of procedural protections, both for the patient and doctors. It defines a medically assisted death as a death from natural causes and prevents exclusions of coverage under insurance contracts which could define such a death as a suicide (or otherwise non-coverable). If you have concerns about the process or protections, I recommend you review the bill itself HERE. The bill has 8 co-sponsors. A hearing is scheduled for March 10 at 1:00 p.m. in the Judicial Proceedings Committee. The bill has been cross-filed in the House as HB1021, where it has 38 co-sponsors.

Religions Exemption to Vaccination Mandate

HB687 removes the religions exemption from the vaccination mandates of the state. Note that the current exemption is already limited when there is an epidemic or emergency. The bill has 5 co-sponsors and has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

Draft Registration through MVA

SB72 changes the conditions of driver’s license pass-through registration for the Military Draft (Selective Service). It amends the law make it no longer applicable only to males and most importantly, it removes the right of applicants for a driver’s license to opt-out Currently there is a fundamental protection under current law that if you refused to consent to your information being shared, it could not be used as a reason to deny a driver’s license. Under this bill, it can be. A hearing was already held in the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee but no vote has been taken. The bill is cross-filed as HB196 in the House and is scheduled for a hearing before the Environmental & Transportation Committee on 2/19 at 1:00 p.m. The bill has 13 co-sponsors in the House.

Private Sales of Dogs and Cats 

HB403 requires a certificate of health be issued by a veterinarian to sell a dog or cat. The health certificate requirement only applies to private sales, not to non-profits, shelters or pet stores. It has 12 co-sponsors in the House. No hearing before the Economic Matters Committee is scheduled for 2/24 at 1:00 p.m.

Drinking Age

SB213 lowers the drinking age to 18, but only for active military. A hearing is scheduled in the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on 2/27 at 1:00 p.m. The bill has 5 co-sponsors and has not been cross-filed in the House.

Motor Vehicle Checkpoints-Motorcycles

SB716 prohibits police officers from targeting only motorcycles at motor vehicle checkpoints. Sponsored by Senator Raskin (with 10 other co-sponsors), the bill was previously introduced in 2014 as SB640, which didn’t get a vote in Judicial Proceedings Committee. This year’s bill is assigned to the Rules Committee but no hearing is yet scheduled. The bill is cross-filed as HB917 in the House. Hearings have yet to be scheduled.