From bad driving to divorce, Maryland lawmakers keep busy in session

The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Tuesday heard comments for and against two pieces of legislation. The first is about drag racing and other types of dangerous driving that local Maryland governments and their police forces say are becoming bigger problems.

The bill, sponsored by Anne Arundel County Democrat state Sen. Pam Beidle, would increase the fines and even allow police to arrest drivers engaged in both street racing and what’s defined as “exhibition driving.” Cars could also be impounded.

The law is modeled after one crafted for Ocean City after an event organized on social media called H2Oi started showing and causing problems there.

Drivers have engaged in similar incidents around the rest of the state, too. This past weekend, a group of cars blocked off roads in downtown Silver Spring, so others could do doughnuts and other types of reckless driving, Fox5 reported.

Meehan highlighted the viral video of someone doing doughnuts on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge a few years back.

“Observers and cars will gather around and someone in the middle will be doing wheelies and doughnuts and all kinds of squealing wheels, and that’s where the exhibition comes in,” Beidle said.

“These individuals have little regard for motor vehicle laws or enforcement,” said Meehan. “In fact, they blatantly defy these laws and law enforcement officers.”

With the power to make arrests and impound vehicles, within three years the number of arrests for that behavior had fallen to two.

“In most call cases, the offenders were released by commissioners on their own recognizance but now had to pay increased fines to have their vehicles released,” Meehan said.

Eventually, the event moved to New Jersey. Last year, two spectators died when a driver lost control of the vehicle.

“It is extremely dangerous, and our current set of laws just are not a sufficient deterrent,” said Michael Shier, speaking on behalf of the Anne Arundel County Fraternal Order of Police. “One of the major points of this legislation is the ability to impound the car. Let me tell you, there’s nothing worse for somebody who is a car enthusiast than having to walk home. That’s going to be a major deterrent.”

The bill made its way to the governor’s desk last year, but an amendment that even supporters acknowledge made the law too complex led former Gov. Larry Hogan to veto the bill. Changes have been made to make things more clear and more enforceable this year.

‘It’s not at all complicated:’ Bill tackles divorce

At the end of the nearly six-hour hearing, that same senate committee also heard about senate bill 36, which would change what is called a “limited divorce” and also change the requirements to obtain what’s considered an “absolute divorce.”

Sponsored by Republican state Sen. Chris West, who represents parts of Baltimore and Carroll counties, it would change the amount of time couples would need to separate to file for divorce from a full year to six months, with “irreconcilable differences” enough as grounds for divorce.

Couples could also be considered “separated,” even when they remain under the same roof.

“For many families, they can’t afford to maintain two different homes for the two different spouses,” West said. “This bill would permit the spouses to live separately under one roof for the six months, and that will qualify as a sufficient separation to get a divorce.

“It’s not at all complicated,” West said. “In this day and age, it’s the way to go.”

West said that mitigating circumstances could be hashed out later when it comes to alimony and child support hearings.

The only pushback came from Western Maryland Republican Mike McKay. He expressed sympathy for one woman who described a bad situation with a husband he called a “deadbeat.” McKay said the woman was trapped in a home she financially supported.

“I have some concerns about now going to six months and not giving a chance for mediation or reconciliation,” McKay said. “The collateral damage, as I see it, is the family unit.

“When using the words ‘easy way of getting out,’ I’m paraphrasing what I heard, it cheapens the union,” McKay said.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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