New Laws Address Gays, Children, Immigration

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS

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.

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 K-12 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.

In Florida, the Safe Harbor Act includes provisions that require police to turn over to the Department of Children and Families any children who are alleged to be sexually exploited or dependent for assessment and possible shelter.

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