During its 2016 session, the Maryland legislature enacted the following bills affecting family law, criminal law, business law and estates and trusts. We summarize below the changes to Maryland law, most of which take effect October 1, 2016, affecting those areas of law.

Family Law Legislation

HB274: Corroborating Testimony in a Divorce. It continues to get easier to get divorced in Maryland. House Bill 274 repeals certain statutory provisions regarding corroborating testimony in a divorce action. Currently, in any divorce action, the testimony of the person seeking the divorce must be corroborated by an independent witness as to all elements necessary to justify the relief sought. Typically, this includes the initiating party’s residency in Maryland and the ground for divorce. It can also extend to the fitness of the party in a custody action. 

The purpose of this corroboration requirement has long been to prevent collusion between parties in order to expedite a divorce or procure a divorce when statutory requirements are not met. When a case is hotly contested, the possibility of collusion between adversaries is least likely and, generally, the corroboration requirement is less strictly applied. In an uncontested case, however, where the parties have reached an agreement on all issues, the corroboration requirement is supposed to be most strictly applied because the possibility of collusion is at its highest. 

With the passage of this bill, however, the uncontested divorce process will be streamlined: the divorcing party will no longer have to drag a friend, family member, colleague or neighbor to court, simply to confirm that yes, he or she is a resident of Maryland, and yes, he or she has been separated from his or her spouse. The divorcing party’s testimony alone will be sufficient. 

Criminal Law Legislation

SB0945: The Drunk Driving Reduction Act. Maryland’s Drunk Driving Reduction Act, or “Noah’s Law,” requires a number of new categories of persons to participate in ignition interlock after being arrested for and/or charged with Driving Under the Influence of or Impaired by Alcohol (DUI or DWI), including:

  • Anyone convicted of Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol Per Se, meaning that the person has taken a chemical breath test indicating an alcohol concentration of more than .08 BAC;
  • Anyone convicted of Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs and the judge or jury finds, beyond a reasonable doubt at the time of trial or a guilty plea, that the person refused a requested blood alcohol content test; and
  • Anyone whose license has been revoked because of a conviction of homicide by motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and anyone whose license has been revoked for a conviction of life-threatening injury by motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Time requirements vary depending on the number of offenses an individual has committed in the past, and removal of the Interlock is monitored strictly to ensure drivers do not attempt to start the vehicle while potentially under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 

The new law also allows more defendants to use ignition interlock prior to their trial dates when charges for Driving Under the Influence or While Impaired are pending. Previously, this option was only available to individuals with a BAC of .15 or more. Now, drivers with a BAC between .08 and .15 may use interlock with a restriction on their license rather than face full license suspension before trial. An election against using interlock while a person’s case is pending will severely limit that person’s ability to retain a license at all once the mandatory alcohol suspension goes into effect. 

There are many nuanced details to the Drunk Driving Reduction Act that are very unique to a driver’s prior history of DUI and the BAC in the current case. Because of this, it is very important to retain all of the paperwork that is issued at the time of arrest for your attorney’s review. The law carries specific and detailed consequences based upon the unique facts of each person’s case. 

HB409: Providing Alcohol to Underage Drinkers. The “Alex and Calvin Law” prohibits adults from knowingly allowing people under the age of 21 to possess or consume an alcoholic beverage at a residence where that adult lives if the adult knew or should have known that the underage drinker would operate a motor vehicle after drinking the alcohol and if, as a result of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence or impaired by alcohol, the underage drinker causes serious physical injury or death to anyone. Violation of this new statute is a misdemeanor subject to imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

Business Law Legislation

HB0131: Non-disparagement Clauses in Consumer Contracts. Maryland is now one of the few states to protect the rights of consumers to speak out critically against businesses. The General Assembly passed a ban on non-disparagement clauses in consumer contracts (specifically, contracts for the sale or lease of goods or services that are primarily for personal, household or family purposes). Such contracts may not prohibit the consumer from making any statement regarding the seller, employees or agents of the seller, or the goods or services received. Many times, these provisions have been used to prohibit consumers from posting negative reviews of a business online. Effective October 1, 2016, penalizing a consumer for making a protected statement is an unfair and deceptive trade practice. 

HB0354/SB0148: Directors and Trustees – Duties and Immunities from Liability. This bill clarifies and amends certain duties of directors. Current law mandates that directors manage the business and affairs of a corporation subject to the fiduciary duties of good faith, loyalty and care. This bill formally clarifies and expands the directors’ duties beyond actions to include omissions and failures to act. It also expands the application of directors’ duties to all business and affairs of the corporation, regardless of whether or not they occur in the ordinary course of business. Further, the law states that actions, omissions and failures to act are the sole source of a director’s duties, thus limiting the application of ambiguous “common law” duties. The new law also removes a provision of the former law limiting enforcement of a breach of fiduciary duty to those acting by or in the right of the corporation, thus creating a broader right to relief for stockholders. 

HB1378/SB1007: Maryland Small Business Retirement Savings Plan. In this bill, the legislature establishes the Maryland Small Business Retirement and Savings Program as well as a Board to manage and administer the Program. The program’s eligible employers include all for-profit and non-profit employers with 10 or more employees that have been in business for at least two years and do not currently offer an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Those employers will be required to offer employees an opportunity to participate in the program through an automatic payroll deduction. Upon proof that an employer is enrolled, or otherwise provides an employer-offered savings arrangement, the State Department of Assessments and Taxation will waive the annual filing fee for those eligible employers. The Board is tasked with developing regulations that are consistent with the federal law, including the tax code, and additional information will be provided by the Board prior to the program’s commencement. 

Estates and Trusts Legislation

HB0431: Maryland Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Program – Establishment. HB0431 requires the College Savings Plans of Maryland Board to establish the Maryland Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Program. The program, similar to a “529” college savings plan, promotes financial savings in support of individuals with disabilities for maintaining health, independence and quality of life. Funds in an ABLE account grow tax-free and, in many cases, are not counted as assets in determining eligibility for programs such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The bill targets October 2017 to have ABLE fully implemented.

For more information about any of these changes in Maryland law, please contact a Stein Sperling attorney at 301-340-2020.

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