As of New Year's Day, arsenic is officially off the menu for Maryland chickens.
The nation's first statewide ban on the use of additives in chicken feed containing the toxic metal is among a dozen new state laws that take effect Jan. 1. The new civil marriage measure that was affirmed by Maryland voters in November, allowing same-sex couples to take their vows, has grabbed the most headlines, but less-publicized laws will take effect as well.
Most new laws adopted by the General Assembly and signed by the governor take effect July 1 or Oct. 1, but in some cases the legislature decides to delay implementation until the new year.
The arsenic ban, sponsored by Del. Tom Hucker, a Montgomery County Democrat, affects the drug Roxarsone, which includes arsenic among its components.
Industry advocates contend that the drug is an effective means of controlling the spread of disease in chicken houses, but environmentalists say its use results in the release of 30,000 pounds a year of a known carcinogen into the state's soil and waters.
Hucker said it took three years to push the legislation through over the opposition of the state's poultry industry and pharmaceutical interests.
"I'm glad common sense prevailed and the General Assembly stood up to the lobbyists and passed the ban this year," he said.
The impact of the ban could be limited because industry leader Perdue Farms discontinued its use of Roxarsone in 2007, while the drug was withdrawn from the market last year by its manufacturer, a Pfizer Inc. subsidiary. The Food and Drug Administration, which has found elevated levels of arsenic in the livers of chicken treated with Roxarsone, is reviewing the use of the drug. A provision of the law would lift the ban if the FDA finds that the product is safe to use in poultry.
Another measure taking effect with the new year is a law intended to protect children from identity theft — an increasingly common problem in the Internet age as thieves target the Social Security numbers of children before they enter the workforce. In many cases, victims of such fraud do not learn of their problems until they become adults and seek to establish credit.
The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. John Astle of Anne Arundel County and Montgomery County Del. Craig Zucker, both Democrats, requires credit-reporting agencies to impose a "security freeze" on a minor's credit upon receiving a request from a parent, guardian or other authorized representative. That request could be made at any time, without evidence of attempted identity theft, to pre-emptively protect a child or other vulnerable person from fraud.
Such a freeze would prohibit the agency from releasing any information from the report until the freeze is lifted.
Also taking effect Tuesday, though its impact is years ahead, is a law changing Baltimore's election cycle from the odd year after gubernatorial elections to presidential election years. The original Senate bill would have moved the city election to the same year as elections for governor, but the final legislation puts off the next mayoral race until 2016.
The same-sex marriage law that takes effect Jan.1 will make Maryland one of nine states, plus the District of Columbia, to allow gay couples to wed. The measure narrowly passed the General Assembly early this year and was upheld by voters, 52 percent to 48 percent, in the Nov. 6 election.
Court clerks in Maryland have been issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples for the past three weeks, but the actual ceremonies have to wait until the new year.