Notes from Annapolis

Soon, the people will speak! For those of us who follow politics, this month and next marks the time when the citizens again get to send a message to Annapolis, along with our local county jurisdictions as well as Washington, by voting for the men and women who will represent us in the executive and legislative branches of government in Maryland, in some of our local county boards and government agencies, and in Congress in Washington, DC. Marylanders will also be voting on two amendments to the Maryland Constitution. Fortunately for us in Maryland, this year we are not experiencing some of the confusion associated with new voter ID laws in other states that have been the subject of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings. So while our voting procedures in Maryland remain pretty much the same, it is worth remembering that this year, voting will be different for many of us because of changes in legislative districts. Redistricting occurs regularly in the wake of the census that is required every 10 years by the U.S. Constitution and reflects changes in the population. Many Marylanders will be situated in a new federal or Maryland legislative district with new boundaries from the previous 10 years. Many of us will be considering candidates for office that are not familiar to us. With the amount of information circulating about voting procedures (including information about polling places and early voting or absentee voting before Election Day) and various candidates for office, it can be daunting to get trustworthy information to make an informed decision. Of course, we have the world wide web, local newspapers,...

Notes from Annapolis

October 1 marks the date when most of the laws passed by the General Assembly during the spring session go into effect. A number of bills of importance to families will become effective on October 1. In the realm of domestic violence, the most important change in the law relates to the standard of proof required to obtain a final protective order. As of October 1, petitioners are required to prove abuse only by a preponderance of the evidence and not by the significantly higher standard of clear and convincing evidence. This adjustment may make it easier for judges to grant petitioners relief from abuse, particularly in situations when the petitioner is required to prove that abuse has placed a person eligible for relief in fear of imminent serious bodily harm. A parent who is in arrears greater than $150 in child support payments and who gambles may be surprised to learn that as of October 1, the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency can intercept a prize won at a video lottery facility. The prize will be applied to pay the child support owed. And while this list is by no means exhaustive (Governor O’Malley signed approximately 200 bills that amend our Code following the adjournment of the 2014 session of the General Assembly), we will see a major change in Maryland’s treatment of possession of marijuana. Maryland will join 17 other states to “decriminalize” marijuana. Under current law, the penalty for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana is a fine up to $500, up to 90 days in jail, or both. The new law...