Alcohol tax, WWII disclosure, more signed into law today
The first tax increase on alcohol in more than a generation was among more than 200 bills signed into law Thursday by Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Come July 1, the sales tax on alcohol will rise from 6 to 9 percent, a move that legislative analysts say will generate about $85 million per year. Much of the initial revenue is earmarked for education support in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, school construction across the state and developmental disabilities services.
“David truly beat Goliath on this one,” said Aaron Kaufman, who has cerebral palsy and has lobbied lawmakers for years to increase disabilities services funding. Lawmakers promised an extra $15 million next year for such services.
In opening remarks at the bill-signing ceremony, the Democratic governor briefly referenced the tax legislation, calling it “critical funding for health.” He highlighted other measures, saying “the theme today is jobs.”
O’Malley said a $75 million plan called Invest Maryland is “the largest single shot of venture capital in our state’s history.” A bill allowing horse track owners to use up to $12 million in slots revenue over the next two years for racing purses helps an industry of at least 9,000 jobs, he said.
Also receiving the governor’s signature was a controversial bill classifying incinerated trash as a renewable energy source on par with wind and solar.
O’Malley had struggled with whether to sign a measure that was strongly opposed by environmental groups, but ultimately said the state needs many approaches to developing renewable energy.
Maryland League of Conservation Voters officials said in a statement that they are disappointed” in the governor’s decision “and the step backward it represents.
Just before the bill-signing ceremony, O’Malley greeted Leo Bretholz of Pikesville, a Holocaust survivor who urged lawmakers to make a Rockville-based railroad company disclose its involvement in transporting deportees to Nazi death camps during World War II.
O’Malley signed the legislation, saying it protects “the dignity of every individual.”
Drivers take heed: As of Oct. 1, reading a text message joins writing and sending as an illegal activity punishable by $500 fine. The governor also signed a bill expanding the pool of drunk drivers who will be required to use an ignition interlock device.
Other legislation signed into law Thursday included nearly $1 billion in capital bond loans for school construction and various state projects, an array of electric vehicle incentives and new rules requiring corporations and unions to provide details when they make independent expenditures in political races.
Also, as Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown noted, a bill signed into law Thursday means that Maryland now joins 49 other states in outlawing child neglect. The new crime is to be a misdemeanor offense. Another new legal provision: In contested divorces, the spouses need only live apart for a year, rather than the two years now required.
Most of the new laws take effect either July 1 or Oct. 1.
On Wednesday, O'Malley announced he had vetoed four bills, largely for technical reasons, and is allowing three measures to take effect without his signature.
Among those is an adjustment to how inmates serving life sentences are released; they are to be freed if the governor does not reject Parole Commission recommendations for parole within 180 days.