Maryland bees prepare for (civil) action -- Gazette.Net


Maryland’s bees don’t have to rely solely on their stingers to protect their honey-making operations. As of Monday, they’ll have a new tool in their collective arsenal: litigation.

A new state law sets a standard of identity for Maryland honey — effectively establishing that to be called “honey,” a product must be produced by honey bees. Products made from corn syrup or processed sugar must be called something else.

The honey standard is one of a slew of new laws approved by the General Assembly this year that will take effect Monday. Others cover a broad range of topics — from child abuse penalties and electronic cigarette sales to fantasy sports regulations and marijuana possession.

The sale of fake honey isn’t a major problem in Maryland, but remains a lingering threat to local honey producers, which usually are small operations, said Wayne Esaias of Highland, president of the Maryland State Beekeepers Association. There have been incidents of fake honey being imported from Asia and sold as a domestic product, he said.

And although the new law doesn’t require the state Department of Agriculture to enforce the regulation, it allows beekeepers and honey producers to file suit against violators and for the courts to stop them from selling the fake product, Esaias said.

“It’s good news for beekeepers and consumers alike,” he said.

Other new laws taking effect Monday:

Marijuana possession

The penalty for possessing a small quantity of marijuana will be reduced because of legislation sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park and Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Dist. 46) of Baltimore.

Use or possession of the drug previously was considered a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and as long as a year in prison. Under the new law, an individual possessing less than 10 grams will face a maximum fine of $500 and as long as 90 days in prison.

Child abuse laws

The penalty for first-degree child abuse that results in a child’s death will increase from 30 to 40 years, thanks to legislation known as “Justice’s Law,” after an infant who was shaken to death in 2007. Currently, first-degree child abuse carries a penalty of 25 years in prison, with five more years added if the abuse results in death, said Sen. Christopher B. Shank (R-Dist.2) of Hagerstown, who sponsored the bill.

Prosecutors, seeking stiffer penalties in such cases, have charged suspects with first- or second-degree murder, but had trouble getting convictions because it was difficult to prove intent, Shank said. The new law helps solve that dilemma, he said.

Another law will boost search efforts for missing children by requiring law enforcement agencies to coordinate volunteer search teams. And another law expands the definition of “children in need of assistance,” or children who need court intervention, to include children who been victims of human trafficking, prostitution or pornography.

Fantasy sports

Marylanders who take part in online fantasy sports competitions now can compete for prizes, thanks to a new law which clarifies they are exempt from state gaming prohibitions.

Websites such as ESPN and Yahoo host such competitions, in which participants assemble an imaginary lineup of real players and then track their team’s progress based on the players’ actual performance, and some offer prizes to the best-performing participants.

But while Marylanders still could play for fun, they were ineligible from winning prizes that were available to participants from other states, said Del. John A. Olszewski Jr. (D-Dist. 6) of Dundalk, who sponsored the legislation.

“This makes sure Maryland residents [are] put on the same playing field,” he said.

Estimates suggest nearly 30 million people in the U.S. participate in fantasy sports leagues, according to the Department of Legislative Services.

Electronic harassment and privacy

A pair of new laws, sponsored in the House by Del. Mary L. Washington (D-Dist. 43) of Baltimore, will offer greater protection to social media users.

One broadens the definition of criminal harassment to include text messaging and sending private messages through a social media website such as Facebook. Public messages, including tweets and blog posts, would be exempt. The other bans employers from asking for the social media passwords of current and prospective employees.

Electronic cigarettes

Maryland’s first law regulating the sale of electronic cigarettes — smokeless devices that release nicotine vapor for users to inhale — will prevent them from being sold to minors. The products, which can feature a variety of flavors, have drawn fire for their potential appeal to young people but are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the Department of Legislative Services.

Posthumous use of donor sperm and eggs

Using a deceased person’s genetic material to conceive a child will be illegal unless the donor had given prior, written consent. State inheritance law also will change to include children conceived after death — but with the donor’s consent — as potential legal heirs to someone’s estate.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in May that a pair of twins, conceived via artificial insemination after their father’s death, were not eligible to receive Social Security survivor benefits.

Mopeds and scooters

Owners of motor scooters now will have to get a title and insurance, and both riders and passengers will be required to wear helmets and eye protection.

The vehicles — defined as two-wheeled, nonpedal motorized vehicles motor with a rating of 2.7 brake horsepower or less or a 50cc engine or less and an automatic transmission -— are popular among students at colleges such as the University of Maryland, College Park.

Last year, the state saw 398 moped-related traffic incidents, compared with 403 in 2010, 326 in 2009 and 252 in 2008, according to Maryland State Police.

Staff Writer Daniel J. Gross contributed to this report.