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 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ban could be limited because industry leader Perdue Farms discontinued its use of Roxarsone in 2007, while the drug was withdrawn from the market last year by its manufacturer, a Pfizer Inc. subsidiary.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 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 still 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.
This hipster French bulldog from San Francisco is one of the cutest and coolest things the Internet has ever seen. The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/28/trotter-the-hipster-french-bulldog_n_1837790.html#slide=1442172">Instagram superstar</a> is simply a natural in front of the camera.
Chengdu Panda Cubs
In October this photo of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/chengdu-panda-cubs-are-th_n_2083702.html">seven sleeping panda cubs </a> went viral. They were born in 2012 at the Chengdu Panda Base in China. Clearly, they give any animal a run for its money for 2012's cutest.
In March, this adorable baby sloth melted every heart on the Internet. The sloth was wrapped from the head down in colorful bandages that happened to look a lot like a 'onesie'. The bandages are <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/01/baby-sloths-wearing-onesies_n_1313389.html">a creative solution to the baby sloth's skin infection</a> -- but to us, they're just about the cutest thing we've seen all year.
In November <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/07/cute-hedgehogs_n_1941315.html#slide=1604891">hedgehogs took the political campaign</a> by storm. Not only are these little guys indisputably cute, but they also look good in just about every situation and costume. Now if only we could have voted one into the White House..
This year, Zeus was officially named the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/zeustallestdog">World's Tallest Dog! </a> The 4-year-old canine stretches to an amazing 7'4" when standing on his hind legs.
In March, a star was born. And her name was Beyonce. A <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/28/beyonce-puppy_n_1384872.html">contender for World's Smallest Dog</a>, Beyonce was so small when she was born that she could fit into a spoon! We're anxious to see if she will nab a spot in the Guinness World Records.
These two baby tigers, whose mother abandoned them, found an unusual wet nurse: a wrinkled, sand-colored Shar Pei named Cleopatra. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/06/dog-nurses-tiger-cubs-photo_n_1574598.html">This image of the dog feeding her adopted cubs </a> is one of the most heartwarming things we saw all year.
When an adorable East-Prussian Skudde lamb's mother passed away, Wolfgang Grensens, who volunteers as a shepherd in Luebeck, northern Germany, decided to raise the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/14/wolfgang-grensens-german-_n_2132209.html">6-week-old baby</a> himself. Now the little lamb frolics along with Grensen's three dogs. Say it with us now: awwwwww.
This adorable pet wasn't on our radar until late this year, and now we're big fans! In October, a tiny echidna was rescued from a trail in Australia. His good looks melted the hearts of Internet users worldwide. A truly fascinating creature, the echidna has remained <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/24/adorable-rare-echidna-puggle-rscued-laps-milk-from-nurses-hand_n_2011500.html">virtually unchanged since prehistoric times</a>. Plus, it's a mammal that lays eggs. How cool is that?
Shiba Inu Puppies
In June 2012, the world watched in fascination as cuteness unfolded live before its eyes. During the<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/08/shiba-inu-puppy-cam-live-_n_1581770.html"> Shibu Inu puppy cam's fourth installment</a>, we wouldn't tear our eyes away from the adorable puppies featured.
One of the year's most memorable videos featured <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/06/hamlet-mini-pig-goes-down-stairs-oatmeal_n_1574841.html">a mini-pig named Hamlet</a> making a quest down a staircase. As soon as he got a whiff of the oatmeal awaiting him, there was no doubt about it: He <em>needed</em> to get down those stairs!
Tard The Grumpy Cat
Earlier this month, we named Tard the Grumpy Cat <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/19/most-important-influential-cats-2012_n_2323065.html">the most influential cat of the year,</a> so it's no doubt she would show up on this list as well. Throughout 2012, Tard stole millions of hearts with her constant frown, which arguably changed Internet cat memes forever.
The Queen's Corgis
Queen Elizabeth II's corgis <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/09/queen-elizabeth-corgi-dies_n_1868282.html"> stole the show</a> during the opening ceremony at the Olympics, when they starred in a sketch alongside James Bond. Unfortunately, Monty and Cider, two of the four corgis, died in September. The other two, Willow and Holly, remain in the palace with the Queen.
Last year, a Los Angeles couple found Fiona -- sick, blind, and dirty -- in a trash heap. In March, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/26/blind-dog-fiona-in-trash-rescue_n_1379889.html">her story of recovery</a> went viral. Thanks the couple's fundraising efforts, Fiona received a full makeover, and a $4,000 eye surgery replaced the lens in one of her eyes, partially restoring her vision. She has since been adopted by a loving family.
An Internet sensation was born this month when a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/10/ikea-monkey-toronot_n_2270707.html">dapper monkey wearing a coat</a> and a diaper decided to make IKEA its playground. It was a great way to end 2012.