BY JIMMY TARLAU AND STEPHANIE STULLICH
Plastic bag ban
Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties have both instituted plastic bag bans that take effect as of Jan. 1, 2024. This follows a similar ban adopted by the City of College Park last year that became effective on Sept. 1, 2023. Plastic bags are still permitted for certain items such as raw meat and bulk goods. Retailers will have to charge a minimum of 10 cents for paper bags in most cases, to encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 10% of plastic bags are recycled, much lower than the figure for paper bags and other paper (21%). “Plastic pollution is a real problem,” said Prince George’s County Councilmember Eric Olson. “This will remove over 300 million plastic bags a year from the waste stream in Prince George’s County alone.”
Stop the Spam Calls Act
A new Maryland state law restricts telephone solicitations, prohibiting the use of automated systems to make calls to solicit people to purchase, lease or rent goods or services, offer a gift or prize, or conduct a poll. Automated surveys are also prohibited if the results will be used directly to solicit the purchase of goods or services.
Violations are punishable with a fine of up to $1,000 for the first offense and up to $5,000 for each subsequent offense.
The prohibition does not apply to non-commercial telephone solicitations for religious, charitable, political, or educational purposes.
Minimum wage increases to $15 per hour
The state minimum wage in Maryland goes from $13.25 to $15 per hour starting Jan. 1, which is more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25. It is estimated that this will affect over 160,000 workers.
For tipped workers, such as waiters and bartenders, employers are not required to increase the base wage, but must ensure that their total pay and tips is at least $15 per hour. Tipped workers may be paid an hourly wage as low as $3.63 per hour, but if actual tips do not raise their compensation to $15 per hour, the employer must make up the difference.
Workers younger than 18 can be paid 85% of the state minimum wage, which would be $12.75.
Maryland Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, a co-sponsor of the bill, said that the higher minimum wage is still too low, but it’s a step in the right direction. “People are barely getting by. Even $15 an hour is not enough; we should have a living wage. But it’s a balancing act between the needs of people and what the businesses can handle right now.”
Diagnostic insurance coverage
Health insurers in Maryland will be required to cover biomarker testing starting Jan. 1. Biomarkers are genes, proteins and other substances that provide information about cancer. Testing for biomarkers not only helps to detect cancer but can also inform treatment. The effective date for Maryland’s Medicaid program to cover biomarker testing is July 1, 2025.
A related law requires insurers to provide coverage for certain lung cancer diagnostic imaging. This law also limits copayments, coinsurance or deductibles that insurers can impose for lung cancer screening and diagnosis.
Medicaid and gender-affirming care
Under the Trans Health Equity Act, the Maryland Medicaid program is required to cover a wider range of gender-affirming treatments. Under the previous law, Medicaid covered a more limited set of procedures, such as mental health services for gender dysphoria, hormone replacement therapy and gender-reassignment surgery. Under the new law, additional covered procedures include body contouring, hair alteration, voice modification surgery and therapy, puberty blockers, fertility preservation and certain cosmetic surgeries. Revisions and reversals of prior treatments also would be covered.
As under prior law, minor persons (under age 18) must have parental consent, and are usually prescribed a more limited range of treatments.