By Jessica Albert

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A series of new laws took effect Friday in Maryland, including environmental regulations, police reforms and new rules governing elections.

Below is a breakdown of some of the law changes:

Environmental Laws

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On the environmental front, it is now illegal for Maryland residents ages 13 and older and organizations to intentionally release balloons into the sky, even if the deed is aimed at honoring someone.

Besides that, Baltimore’s ban on single-use plastic bags is now in effect. As part of that measure, businesses located within the city are now required to charge at least five cents for alternative bags such as totes and paper bags, a penny of which goes to the city.

Mayor Brandon Scott said the ban is not just about making the city cleaner for current residents but for future generations as well.

“I know this is a huge cultural shift for Baltimore, but I want our residents to know it can be done,” Scott said. “Our sister city in D.C. did it some many moons ago and the Anacostia River is a lot cleaner for it.”

Police Reforms

Several police reform laws also became effective Friday, including Anton’s Law.

The law — named after Anton Black, a 19-year-old man from the Eastern Shore who died in police custody in 2018 — makes it so that records of police misconduct are now open to the public.

The measure also imposes limits on so-called no-knock warrants, which have come under local and national scrutiny in the wake of high-profile deaths of people at the hands of police.

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“With the public disclosure of these police records, agencies will be less inclined to ignore public complaints, to downgrade them and fail to render discipline when warranted,” Maryland Senator Jill Carter said of the law.

Another police reform is the formation of a new independent team of investigators with the Maryland Attorney General’s Office who will take over deadly incidents involving law enforcement.

In addition to those measures, the Justice Restoration Act will now keep juveniles convicted of serious crimes from being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Election Laws

Other laws taking effect Friday include measures that will influence voting and elections. For instance, the state is extending windows for early voting.

Prior to Friday, early voting facilities had to open at 10 a.m. for most elections and 8 a.m. for presidential elections. Now, however, all early voting centers must be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Aside from that, a separate law now means that many counties will be tasked with establishing additional early voting locations.

Progress For LGBTQ

Among the many measures that became law Friday was House Bill 130, which establishes the Commission on LGBTQ Affairs in the Governor’s Office.

This panel is tasked with: evaluating challenges the LGBTQ community faces; collecting data on LGBTQ-inclusive policies and complaints involving alleged discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and studying and creating best practices for inclusion of LGBTQ individuals and communities; among other things.

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As part of its duties, the commission will also provide information to the executive and legislative branches on issues concerning women and the LGBTQ community.

Jessica Albert