- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Adults who give alcohol to people younger than 21 face higher fines, but no jail time, under a proposal the Maryland Senate approved unanimously.

The Senate voted 44-0 yesterday to approve a bill that would increase civil fines for people supplying alcohol to minors, after criminal penalties that included up to 60 days in jail were removed.

The version approved by the Senate takes fines from $1,000 to $2,500 for a first offense.

The criminal penalties were dropped after some senators argued that they already are covered by laws against contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The House has passed a version of the bill that includes jail time, so the two chambers now must resolve those differences.

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Maryland banks are a step closer to being shielded from a court ruling that said they were collecting some fees improperly.

The Senate passed a bill to put state-chartered banks on equal footing with their federal counterparts in charging closing-cost penalties to certain borrowers who pay off refinancing loans despite having agreed to hold them a certain period of time.

The bill is in response to a December ruling by the Court of Appeals that the banks were collecting those fees improperly. The ruling set up a potential class-action lawsuit worth millions.

A similar bill has already passed the House. The two chambers will have to iron out small differences before the measure heads to the governor’s desk.

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Smith Island cake is a step closer to being Maryland’s official state dessert.

The Senate unanimously agreed yesterday to add the multilayered cake to the list of state symbols that includes blue crabs and terrapin turtles.

One more vote is required in the Senate before the measure heads to the House, which is considering a similar bill.

Supporters say the towering cake is distinct to Maryland and that the official designation would help the Eastern Shore island market its hallmark dessert.

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Saying they won’t take up any gay marriage bills this year, Maryland senators have begun debate on a measure to allow same-sex couples to make medical decisions for each other.

But the medical proposal has detractors on both sides: conservatives who oppose conferring rights of marriage to gay couples, and gay-rights activists who call measures like the decision-making bill attempts to avoid allowing same-sex couples to marry.

The debate started Wednesday night on a bill to allow domestic partners some medical authority similar to that allowed to heterosexual spouses, from visitation rights in hospitals to burial decisions after a spouse has died.

A preliminary version of the medical-decisions bill was approved, but more amendments must be considered.

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