New US laws address gays, children, immigration

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Associated Press

Posted on December 26, 2012 at 6:33 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Measures on gay rights and child safety are among the top state laws taking effect at the start of 2013, along with attempts to prevent identity theft and perennial efforts to restrict abortion and illegal immigration.

In many states, new laws take effect on Jan. 1, while in others they do so 90 days after a governor's signature.

The first voter-approved laws allowing same-sex couples to marry take effect in Maryland in January and in Maine on Saturday. California also approved a law exempting clergy members opposed to gay marriage from performing same-sex marriage ceremonies.

In California, a first-of-its-kind law bans a form of psychotherapy aimed at making gay teenagers straight but is on hold during a court challenge. The law would ban what is known as reparative or conversion therapy for minors; such therapies are widely discredited by medical professionals.

A number of laws seek to protect children from bullying and abuse. Pennsylvania school employees in contact with children, who already must report suspected abuse, must now be trained to recognize the warning signs, their legal obligations and what are considered appropriate relationships with children.

That law was being debated and voted on in June as a jury was finding former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky guilty of 45 counts for sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years.

California coaches and administrators in schools, as well as higher education employees who have regular contact with children, will be required to report suspected child sexual abuse. Oregon will require schools to adopt a policy on teen dating violence, a law that follows state legislation earlier this year requiring school employees to report acts of bullying, harassment and online bullying.

States continue to wrestle with illegal immigration. Pennsylvania will include a requirement that contractors on public works projects make sure through the federal E-Verify system that their employees are legal U.S. residents, while a Montana ballot measure taking effect denies illegal immigrants of state services.

Supporters say the Montana law will prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining services and prevent them from taking jobs at a time of high unemployment. Opponents argued there is no proof illegal immigrants are using state services in Montana.

In Georgia a new law will prohibit doctors from performing an abortion 20 weeks after an egg is fertilized unless a pregnancy is determined to be medically futile, meaning it would result in the birth of a child unlikely to survive because of a serious defect. Georgia became the seventh state in the U.S. to approve the so-called fetal pain act.

The measure passed over the objection of many female lawmakers, including Sen. Valencia Seay, who said the bill's passage and signing was "unconscionable, but not surprising" and typical of the male-dominated General Assembly.

New Hampshire enacts a ban on a type of late-term abortion procedure sometimes called "partial birth abortion" after lawmakers overrode the veto of Gov. John Lynch, who said the measure was unnecessary because federal law already prohibits such procedures. Supporters of the ban say they don't trust the government to prosecute the law.

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