- The Washington Times - Monday, December 31, 2012

Employers and college officials in several states no longer can ask people to pony up their Facebook passwords. Drivers in Florida earn the right to warn fellow motorists of cops lurking around the bend. And folks in California cannot let their dogs chase bears or bobcats “at any time,” even for hunting.

These are a few of the protections, prohibitions and privileges that kick in Tuesday, when states welcome 2013 with laws that range from the headline-grabbing to the mundane. Lawmakers in all but four states met for regular sessions in 2012, enacting more than 400 bills that take effect New Year’s Day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Leading the pack are voter-driven same-sex marriage laws in Maine and Maryland.

In Maine, same-sex couples could marry as of Saturday. Portland’s city hall opened for business at 12:01 a.m., Bangor opened its doors at 6 a.m., and residents of other municipalities had to wait until Monday or after the New Year’s holiday, according to gay-rights advocates.

Excitement had been building among “folks who have been waiting, in some cases for decades, to be married,” EqualityMaine spokesman Ian Grady said.

David Farmer, a spokesman for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said Maine residents who had wed in other states that recognize same-sex marriage automatically would be recognized, locally, as of Saturday.

The provision in Maryland — the result of a hard-fought battle at the ballot box — goes into effect Tuesday when same-sex couples can marry, though couples have been able to get postdated licenses since Dec. 6 to avoid logjams at courthouses.

Washington state’s same-sex marriage law went into effect in early December and Maine’s on Saturday.

Meanwhile, a new California law makes it clear that clergy members do not have to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies if the practice goes against the tenets of their religion.

Gov. Jerry Brown also signed a groundbreaking measure that prohibits mental health practitioners from engaging in psychotherapy intended to limit or end homosexual attractions, but the law will not go into effect until a federal appeals court can hear arguments about its constitutionality.

Oregon enacted laws to address child safety in the wake of the molestation case that rocked Penn State University and its football program. Effective Tuesday, employees of higher education institutions in Oregon will be among the public and private officials who must report suspected child abuse to law enforcement or human services officials.

Another mandatory reporting law will take effect in the nation’s capital, assuming it passes a routine congressional review of local D.C. laws.

With the rise of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, a new set of laws restrict how far an employer or institution of higher education can go in snooping on employees or students.

Legislatures in California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey enacted laws in 2012 that prohibit either employers or college administrators from culling user names or passwords from their employees, job applicants or students. Several more states have similar legislation pending, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The new laws range from the quirky — allowing culinary students in Illinois ages 18 to 21 to taste alcohol during class — to serious, such as a California provision that lets someone seek help for a drug overdose without running the risk of prosecution.

In a unique twist on free speech, state lawmakers in Florida took action after a circuit court judge ruled in May that a motorist had a First Amendment right to warn an oncoming driver about a speed trap by flashing his headlights, according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel.

As of Tuesday, drivers in the Sunshine State will be legally entitled to intermittently flash their vehicles’ head lamps at other motorists — regardless of their purposes for doing so.