September 30, 2012

Baltimore Sun: New state laws on car seats, chemotherapy coverage begin

Starting Monday a raft of laws approved by the state legislature take effect

By Ian Duncan, The Baltimore Sun

September 30, 2012

A raft of new state laws take effect Monday, imposing new requirements from the car seat to the hearse.

Children under 8 years old will be required to sit in a booster seat or child seat until they reach a certain height — the Maryland legislature repealed a provision that allowed heavier children to forego a special seat. And morticians will have to follow stricter rules when handling the dead, under legislation enacted by the General Assembly earlier this year.

Other laws cut costs for patients undergoing oral chemotherapy, allow sports fans to win cash prizes in online fantasy football tournaments and give prisoners a reprieve from having to pay child support while behind bars.

The chemotherapy law is named for Kathleen Mathias, the wife of state Sen. James N. Mathias Jr. of Ocean City, who died of breast cancer last year. Kathleen Mathias was a long-time cancer prevention advocate and founded the Worcester County chapter of the American Cancer Society in 1989.

“What this bill does is give hope, and what Kathy did is give hope,” Mathias said. “Her story is one of hope, not one of tragedy.”

Under the law, which passed both chambers unanimously in March, health insurance plans will be required to offer oral chemotherapy at the same or lower cost as injected or intravenous forms. An increasing number of oral chemotherapy drugs are available, but many insurance plans treat them as prescription medication, imposing higher out-of-pocket costs on patients.

The oral drugs are often more cost effective and require less time in the hospital to administer, Mathias said.

The law takes effect Oct. 1 — the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Under another law, children will now have to sit in a booster seat or child seat until they reach age 8, unless they are 4-foot-9-inches or taller. Previously, children who weighed more than 65 pounds were allowed to ride without a special seat, but according to State Police Sgt. Marc Black, studies have shown that new seat designs are safe even for heavier children.

Car crashes are the No. 1 killer of children in the United States, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. In Maryland, eight child passengers under 16 years old were killed in car accidents in 2010, the data show. The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration is on a campaign to eliminate road deaths entirely.

“It’s definitely a very big goal, a lofty goal to have, but we view any one death on the highway as one too many,” Black said.

The legislature also imposed new requirements for the transportation of dead bodies. In the past, Maryland bodies have sometimes been sent out of the state for preparation without the knowledge of either the dead person’s family or the Maryland State Board of Morticians and Funeral Directors.

The change in the law was prompted in part by a Washington Post series that detailed unsanitary and unethical conditions at the National Funeral Home in Virginia, which provides services to funeral homes around the region, including at least one in Maryland. The home was eventually fined $50,000 for its poor handling of the bodies.

One new law will require dead bodies that are held for more than 48 hours before they are buried or cremated to be refrigerated or embalmed. But it also requires funeral homes to get permission to embalm a body from the dead person’s next of kin, because some religious groups do not allow the procedure, and others might not want it for ethical reasons.

Under the new law, bodies can only be sent to out-of-state facilities that agree to spot inspections by the Maryland board and with the express permission of the dead person’s relatives.

“We will know where Maryland’s bodies are, and we will be able to appropriately check on them,” said Ruth Ann Arty, the board’s executive director.

Under a separate law, companies that transport bodies and aren’t regulated funeral homes will now have to have a state permit.

Under another new law, prisoners will be granted relief from paying child support while they are locked up. According to a 2007 study, half of people in prison are required to pay child support. Upon release many have racked up thousands of dollars in missed payments. A prison task force concluded that those debts, combined with the difficulty ex-convicts often have finding work, hindered prisoners’ reentry into society, and recommended the change.

And just in time for football season, Maryland residents will now be able to compete for cash prizes in online fantasy competitions, including sports leagues, under a new law that exempts such games from gambling laws. Before, people from Maryland who entered some online leagues were not eligible to win prizes.

The legal position of fantasy football leagues in Maryland has been ambiguous since a 2006 finding by the Maryland attorney general that anything involving a stake, an element of chance and a reward constitutes gambling. But federal law specifically exempts fantasy sports from Internet gambling rules, as long as the teams do not exactly mirror real-life teams and the prizes are agreed upon up front. The new Maryland law brings the state into line with that standard.

Source: Associated Press

Other new laws that take effect Monday

•People convicted federally or in another state of violent and drug crimes will be banned from owning regulated firearms, rifles and shotguns.

•The penalty for being caught with less than 10 grams of marijuana will be cut to 90 days in prison or a fine of $500 (or both), down from a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

•The state will have to publish a list of missing children and annual statistics. The law is named for Phylicia Barnes, a teenager from North Carolina who disappeared in 2010 while she was visiting Baltimore, and was later found dead.

•Employers will be banned from requiring that job-seekers and current employees hand over passwords to their social media accounts.

•Sperm or eggs from donors who have died will only be allowed to be used for reproduction if the donor gave permission before dying.

Originally posted on The Baltimore Sun website, available by clicking here.