Sunday, July 1, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — New laws take effect in Maryland this week, including a measure aimed at making it easier to build large wind-power projects.

The new fiscal year also begins today, making a record $400 million available for school construction and $7 million available to hire 155 new correctional officers.

While many other bills don’t take effect until October, more than 100 are going on the books now.

The wind-power law allows developers to build wind farms without a certificate of public convenience from the Maryland Public Service Commission. While critics argued it will cut out public input on wind projects, the law’s supporters said it only removes extra environmental reviews that were stifling wind-power development in Maryland.

Frank Maisano, a spokesman for a coalition of Mid-Atlantic wind-power developers, said the law was needed to help the state meet goals for Maryland-produced renewable power.

“I think, hopefully, in the short term, it will break the shackles of some of those projects that have been stymied,” Mr. Maisano said.

But critics say that under the new law, strides toward renewable power could come at the expense of wildlife.

Bob DeGroot, president of the Maryland Alliance for Greenway Improvement and Conservation, said he thinks the new law will erode input on the environmental effects on birds and bats who migrate over mountains in Western Maryland, where turbines could be built. He also said people should have as much say as possible on large projects built near their homes.

“A man might have a 40-story tower put beside his home and, under this new law, may not be able to complain about it,” Mr. DeGroot said.

Another new law restores voting rights to thousands of Maryland residents with felony convictions who have completed their sentences. A coalition of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, will kick off a week of outreach programs tomorrow to those affected by the law to register to vote.

A second new law related to voting prohibits the Maryland Board of Elections from certifying a voting system without verifiable paper records. It also requires that voting systems be accessible to people with disabilities.

In health, a pilot program in Baltimore will allow health care providers to give antibiotics to the sexual partners of patients diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases without evaluating the partner.

Another law taking effect creates a 20-member task force to address prison violence. The members will include people appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, representatives from correctional officers’ unions and two former prisoners. The panel will study the role of gang activity in state prisons and theeffect of contraband. It has been directed to submit an interim report in December, with a final report due by Dec. 31, 2008.

On the environmental front, the state reptile will be less apt to end up in somebody’s soup. A bill banning the possession of the diamondback terrapin for commercial purposes is going into effect.

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