Preventing workplace violence, privacy for crime victims: New Md. laws in effect

Maryland employers have a new tool to protect their employees from workplace violence.

A law that allows employers to seek peace orders on behalf of workers has taken effect as of Oct. 1.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Vanessa Atterbeary and state Sen. Charles Sydnor, doesn’t require the employee to participate in the process.

Lisae Jordan, with the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, testified in favor of the bills in the 2021 General Assembly session. “We really view this as an important piece of keeping people safe at work. All the more important in the COVID era,” she said.

Even before conflicts over COVID-19 protocols resulted in cases where health care workers were often targeted for harassment and even threats of violence, the Maryland Hospital Association reported that incidents of violence within hospitals were near “epidemic” levels,” with serious workplace violence four times greater in the health care field than in private industry.

During testimony on the law, Atterbeary referenced the 2017 shooting at a Harford County business that left three people dead and two others injured as part of the genesis of the legislation.

Jordan said the killing of five people at the Capital Gazette newspaper offices in Annapolis in 2018 also illustrate the need for the bill. In that case, the shooter had targeted the newspaper and its staff for years with escalating threats of violence.

“I think there are a lot of workplaces where this can be a helpful tool to keep people safe,” Jordan said of the new law.

A number of other laws that went into effect Oct. 1 provide other protections to victims of crimes.

Under a bill sponsored by Sen. Shelly Hettleman, law enforcement agencies will have to provide private space when requested by a victim who is reporting certain categories of offenses. The bill was intended to allow crime victims some privacy when going to police stations to report crimes, such as rape, sexual harassment or assault.

During legislative hearings, Maryland teenager Izzy Sayan explained that after she went to the Cockeysville police station to report that she had been harassed at the restaurant where she worked, she was asked to detail the incident while standing in the station lobby.

Sayan, who was 15 at the time the incident occurred, told lawmakers, “What happened to me was very embarrassing, and it was made even more so by not being able to tell the male officer in private.”

As a result of the legislation, law enforcement agencies have to post information that states a victim has the right to request private space for reporting a crime.

Other laws now in effect include a measure on sexting that was intended to prevent minors from being criminally prosecuted for producing child pornography when sending sexual images of themselves.

It doesn’t legalize the practice, but instead, according to the coalition, it “balances the need to prevent creation and distribution of child pornography” with the “common sense goal of preventing minors from being criminally prosecuted for what has become a common practice.”

Jordan said the new law would apply only in cases where there is no coercion involved and when the person producing the images and the recipient are within four years of age of each other. In other cases, where the production and exchange of sexual images is not consensual, “those people, we keep them in the child porn bucket and we prosecute those folks,” Jordan said.

Another law allows the elimination of the requirement of publication of legal name changes in some cases.

Jordan said the impetus for the law was a case in which a survivor of child sexual abuse had the same name as his father. The father’s name was placed on the Maryland sex offender registry.

“Anytime anyone Googles the child’s name, the sex offender registry is popping up,” Jordan said.

In order to get a legal name change, Maryland law required that the request would have to be published in newspapers, and then it would appear on the internet, where the information remains.

Instead, the new law allows those requesting a name change ask the court to process the name change without the publication requirement. Jordan said the name change would still appear in court records, but would otherwise not have to be published.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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