Maryland, Virginia ring in 2013 with gay marriage and higher tolls

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Photo - BETHESDA, MD - AUGUST 19:  TV reporter Roby Chavez (R) and his partner Chris Roe (L) share a moment as they try out their wedding tuxedos at a tailor shop August 19, 2010 in Bethesda, Maryland. Chavez of Matthews, Louisiana, and Roe, of Monticello, Wisconsin, tied the knot on August 21, 2010 in Washington, DC. Roe popped the question on the night the nation's capital became the sixth place in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage will become legal in Maryland on Jan. 1.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
BETHESDA, MD - AUGUST 19: TV reporter Roby Chavez (R) and his partner Chris Roe (L) share a moment as they try out their wedding tuxedos at a tailor shop August 19, 2010 in Bethesda, Maryland. Chavez of Matthews, Louisiana, and Roe, of Monticello, Wisconsin, tied the knot on August 21, 2010 in Washington, DC. Roe popped the question on the night the nation's capital became the sixth place in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage will become legal in Maryland on Jan. 1. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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For residents of Washington's suburbs, the new year means new laws, from gay couples being allowed to marry in Maryland to tolls increasing in Virginia.

Other changes taking effect at the start of 2013 include a law allowing Maryland parents to freeze their child's credit if the child is an identity theft victim, new fees for using an ambulance in Montgomery County and around-the-clock gambling at Maryland's casinos.

The first sign of change could come quickly for some of Maryland's gay couples, who won't wait long before taking advantage of the law that 52 percent of state voters approved on Election Day.

Also beginning Jan. 1
In Maryland
• It will be illegal to use, sell or distribute poultry feed that contains arsenic.
• Veterans will be able to note their veteran status on a driver's license.
• Prince George's County animal control plans to release feral cats that have been trapped, vaccinated and neutered within 72 hours of being impounded, rather than potentially euthanize them. The cats that have been caught and released can be identified by a quarter-inch cut on their left ear.
In Virginia
• Insurance companies that offer fire insurance have to disclose whether a policy covers earthquake damage and if it does not, whether earthquake insurance is available from the insurer.
• Governments will not be permitted to require residents to hand over private property for private benefit, to increase jobs, to increase tax revenue or otherwise promote economic development.

"There's already some weddings happening right after New Year's Eve, at 12:01," said Carrie Evans, executive director of gay rights group Equality Maryland.

Evans referred to the battle among state lawmakers to pass the law and the high-profile campaign -- laden with celebrity endorsements -- that bombarded local radio and television advertising leading up to Election Day. "Finally, we're at the last step."

Couples getting married at local courts must wait until Wednesday, when the courts reopen after the New Year's holiday, but several counties have already reported full days of weddings. The Montgomery County Circuit Court, for example, has scheduled six same-sex weddings that day.

The country's first law protecting children from identity theft also takes effect in Maryland on Tuesday. The law enables parents or guardians to place a freeze on a child's credit to prevent anyone who is not authorized from taking advantage of a minor's unused credit.

"Too many children are victimized by relatives and other individuals who attempt to exploit a child's clean credit history to obtain a credit card, mobile phone or utility account," said Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler. "As a result, children end up having to deal with a blemished credit record once they are old enough to seek credit on their own."

Until Tuesday -- and in every other state in the country -- the three major credit reporting agencies can refuse to freeze the credit for children who do not have pre-existing credit reports. However, no child should have a credit report unless someone has opened an account in the child's name, at which point it may be too late to ward off identity theft, experts say.

For commuters on the Dulles Toll Road, the new year means higher tolls. The cost of a one-way trip will increase 50 cents for cars, from $2.25 to $2.75, increasing the annual cost by $260 for drivers who use the road every day.

Rates are scheduled to rise again in 2014 to $3.50 each way and in 2015 to $4.50.

Toll revenues are expected to pay for roughly 75 percent of the cost of building the $6 billion Silver Line Metro train to Washington Dulles International Airport.

In Montgomery County, January brings fees for anyone who uses an ambulance. Each ride will cost between $400 and $800.

County officials have emphasized that insurance companies will cover the charge for the county's residents, and the county will waive any uncovered costs. People who do not have insurance and do not live in the county can request waivers to avoid paying the fees.

However, anyone who does not live in the county and has insurance could face paying whatever charge the insurance company doesn't -- for example, a copay.

Some local laws went into effect over the last few weeks.

Maryland casinos are ringing in the new year -- literally -- with slot machines chiming 24 hours a day at Arundel Mills' Maryland Live! Casino, Hollywood Casino in Perryville and the Casino at Ocean Downs near Ocean City.

And residents in Damascus will be able to celebrate the new year by raising a glass at a town restaurant for the first time, after voters approved the change allowing restaurants in Maryland's last dry town to serve beer and wine.

Staff writers Liz Essley and Matt Connolly contributed reporting.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner