New toll collections, other Md. laws take effect Saturday

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After one of the biggest travel weekends of the year, a new state law will take effect Saturday that could increase state revenue by as much as $18.5 million next year.

The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) will be able to contract with a private debt collection company to pursue out-of-state tax scofflaws, who are historically difficult to collect from. Because the administration can’t suspend the licenses or refuse to renew registrations, a large percentage of unpaid out-of-state toll fees from Maryland’s eight toll facilities remain unpaid.

There were about 576,000 out-of-state drivers who owed outstanding tolls totaling $102.2 million in January. The state’s Central Collection unit has only been able to collect about $1.3 million in outstanding tolls and civil penalties each year from out-of-state drivers.

“They had presumed they had escaped the long arm of the law in Maryland. They can run, but now they can’t hide from their video toll indebtedness,” John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of Public and Government Affairs, said in a statement.

The MDTA will seek to contract with a private company in an arrangement similar to one used by the Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority. Under such a private contract, a debt collection company would buy the out-of-state toll debt from the state, which would be paid immediately for the actual tolls, while civil penalty revenue depends on the company’s collection rate.

According to AAA, if Maryland compiled the outstanding tolls acquired by out-of-staters into a stack of 102 million one-dollar-bills, it would stretch more than 6.21 miles high and weigh more than 100 tons.

Dozens of other bills are set to take effect on Saturday.

Among them are a number of possible tax credits for the elderly surviving spouses of retired veterans, low-income Baltimore City Government employees, buildings that host youth robotics programs, new grocers in Prince George’s County healthy food priority areas and for certain nonprofit charitable museums. The state’s property tax credit for first responders will expand to include members of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Police and Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission Police.

New laws to promote transparency and guide investment practices at the Maryland Technology Development Corporation also take effect, as does an easy health insurance enrollment program that will let Marylanders begin finding a health care plan by checking on a box on their state tax returns.

Another new state law will expand the circumstances under which police must collect sexual assault evidence kits and submit them for timely analysis and investigation.

The state’s Fight for 15 bill takes effect. Starting July 1, the state’s reimbursement rates will increase for community-based agencies that provide mental health and substance use disorder treatments and assistance to developmentally disabled residents, as well as other community providers. The first pay increase for eligible hourly workers will be to $11 on Jan. 1.

Also on Saturday, the state will permanently impose an increased maximum penalty of $500 for drivers caught on school bus stop-arm cameras failing to stop for buses with red lights flashing that are loading or unloading children. According to a one-day survey of bus drivers conducted by the Maryland State Department of Education in April 2018, there were 3,812 incidents involving vehicles passing a stopped school bus with its flashing red lights illuminated. In Maryland, at least four counties use automated stop-arm cameras.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the day the laws will take effect and the name of the transportation authority. 

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