By BRIAN WITTE Associated Press Writer
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) Maryland residents facing foreclosure will have the right to mediation with their mortgage lenders under a new law Gov. Martin O'Malley signed on Thursday.
The law applies to all foreclosures that begin after June 30, and a court could decide to apply the law to foreclosures already in process before that date. The measure was one of 270 bills approved by the governor at his last scheduled bill signing of the year.
"One near and dear to my heart is the mandatory right to mediation that all families in Maryland will have before a big mortgage servicer can throw them out of their home," said O'Malley, a Democrat.
The governor also signed legislation aimed at road safety.
A new law taking effect in October bans the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. Drivers could be fined $40 for first violations and $100 for subsequent ones. Drivers could only be pulled over if they are committing another offense as well, such as running a stop light.
It was also a good day for bicyclists and people who ride motor scooters. Starting in October, drivers who pass a bicycle or motor scooter will have to leave at least 3 feet between their vehicle and the rider.
Environmental measures also were prominent at the bill signing. Lawmakers approved a tax credit of up to $2,000 for people who buy hybrid vehicles. The credit applies to vehicles bought from Oct. 1 to June 20, 2013.
In another bill, Maryland utilities will have to increase the amount of solar energy they buy. The measure also creates fees they will have to pay if they don't complying. The measure signed by O'Malley was scaled back significantly from a version approved by the Senate that had a much higher cost for ratepayers and companies.
The bill, aimed at creating jobs in solar energy while helping to protect the environment, will increase residential electricity bills by an estimated 5 cents per month next year and 66 cents per month for the average commercial ratepayer. The amount goes up each year, resulting in an increase of 77 cents per month for residents and $9.57 for commercial ratepayers in 2016.
O'Malley signed a bill to renew what used to be known as the Heritage Tax Credit, which applied to renovations of historical buildings. The program, which will now be called the Sustainable Communities Tax Credit, has been extended to 2014, and it will expand to include property that isn't historical. There is $10 million available for the credit in fiscal year 2011.
The governor also signed legislation to create an income tax checkoff system for voluntary contributions for services to people with developmental disabilities.
Regulations for international marriage brokers also were signed by the governor. The new law, which takes effect in October, requires marriage brokers to conduct a criminal history records check of would-be suitors and to provide the information to potential brides.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)