- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | Legalizing gay marriage remains an elusive goal for activists in Maryland, but gay couples are gradually achieving some of the same rights as married heterosexual couples.

The latest legislative example, which takes effect Wednesday with a variety of other new laws, exempts domestic partners who co-own homes from the state inheritance tax.

There is no inheritance tax on property passing to spouses, children, parents, grandparents, stepchildren or stepparents and siblings under current Maryland law. But others pay a 10 percent tax on the property’s value, a tax that applied to domestic partners until the change in the law.

Lawmakers approved legislation last year to allow same-sex partners to make medical and burial decisions for each other. Domestic partners also became eligible for tax benefits that married people receive when transferring property last year.

Maryland’s highest court ruled in 2007 that lawmakers may change state law to allow same-sex couples to marry. Gay marriage legislation was introduced in 2008 and in the last legislative session, but lawmakers did not take action on either bill.

Another new law taking effect in Maryland on Wednesday will require local law enforcement agencies that deploy SWAT teams to report the deployments to the governor’s office.

The SWAT team reporting law was passed in response to a raid by Prince George’s County authorities on the home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo, whose two black Labradors were killed in the raid. Drug smugglers had sent a package containing 32 pounds of marijuana to his residence, but police later cleared Mr. Calvo and his family of any wrongdoing.

Another new law aims to make college textbooks more affordable. The College Textbook Competition and Affordability Act is an effort to make students aware of cheaper textbook options.

The law requires public colleges and universities to release the names of books that will be used for courses three weeks after a faculty member makes a selection. That way, students will have more time to find books at better prices in places other than campus book stores.

“It allows students to have more opportunities to buy them cheaper,” said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, Prince George’s County Democrat, who was the bill’s main sponsor. “We think it’s really going to expand the used-book market.”

A new law also takes effect to strengthen the state’s smart growth movement, which aims to reduce urban sprawl by steering new development to areas where infrastructure like roads, water lines and sewers already exist.

The smart growth law requires members of local government planning commissions and boards of appeal to take a course on the role of their comprehensive plans. While local officials develop and approve comprehensive plans, the plans must implement state land-use policies.

The new smart growth law also expresses legislative intent to overturn the Court of Appeals ruling last year that removed a hurdle to build 4,300 homes on the edge of the Green Ridge State Forest along a stream called Terrapin Run.

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