AUGUSTA (AP) – While the gay marriage issue simmers in much of the country, a law that will take effect in Maine on Friday clarifies domestic partnership rights and creates a domestic partnership registry.

“Symbolically, it’s very big,” said Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, formerly the Maine Lesbian-Gay Political Alliance. Through the registry, “We have statewide recognition of our families.”

Friday marks the 90th day after the close of this year’s legislative session, the day bills that were approved during the four-month legislative session become law. The new laws affect a spectrum of Mainers from ATV users to woodsmen.

Under the new law that sets up a domestic registry, a person faced with the death of a domestic partner will be allowed to inherit property of the deceased in the same manner as a surviving spouse.

The law also says a partner would be considered first next of kin when determining who has the right to make funeral and burial arrangements. The law makes no distinction between gay or heterosexual partners.

As of Friday, wood haulers and harvesters can organize associations and negotiate collectively for rates, which would be set by a three-member board.

The law, which applies to loggers and haulers working on Irving Woodlands properties, will help establish parity between the two sides in northern Maine’s logging industry, said the measure’s sponsor, Rep. William Smith, D-Van Buren.

Women can buy “morning after” pills across the drug store counter as Maine becomes the sixth state to allow pharmacists to dispense emergency contraceptives without the usual doctor’s prescription.

Golfers will be allowed to slake their thirst with a cold one on the fairways as courses get the green light to sell beer from mobile service carts.

At the Dunegrass Golf Club in Old Orchard Beach, many customers have asked whether the mobile bar service was available. Now, a snack cart will be equipped to also offer beer, said Andrew Ready, who works in the pro shop.

On the highways, toll cheats should beware of a new law that empowers the Maine Turnpike Authority to fine vehicle owners $50 for the first offense and up to $150 for repeat offenses over an 18-month period. Twenty-dollar administrative fees are added.

A wide-ranging law aimed at keeping all-terrain users in check sets fines of $100 to $500 for riding on private property without landowner permission, unless it’s on a trail marked for ATV use. ATVs are also off-limits in environmentally sensitive places like salt marshes, sand dunes and unfrozen streams. Young riders who venture off their property must complete training courses.

At noon Friday, Maine vendors can start selling tickets to the multistate, big-jackpot lottery Powerball.

In anticipation of slot machines at harness racing tracks in Bangor, a new law creates a Gambling Control Board and allocates income from the 1,500 slots that would be allowed statewide. It will be months before slots themselves appear.

Maine becomes the fourth state as of July 30 to put into law a policy on taping of interrogations. The law gives the state’s Criminal Justice Board until January to write policies for audio or video recordings by police.

While the new school year is still several weeks away, parents and schools are getting more responsibility for preventing truancy. A process outlined in a new law spells out how schools and parents must identify causes of a student’s repeated absences and develop a plan to correct the problem. A parent who fails to comply can be fined $25.

In hopes of protecting children who need guardians following domestic violence deaths in their families, a new law will require criminal background checks for those who want to take custody of children involved. A separate law calls for criminal background checks of prospective adoptive parents.

Maine’s pyrotechnics and fireworks regulations are more strict as of Friday. A law prompted by a deadly fire ignited by a rock band’s pyrotechnics in Rhode Island last year increases state monitoring of indoor pyrotechnics displays and doubles to $1 million the minimum liability insurance coverage for indoor and outdoor fireworks displays.

Sexually oriented businesses are the target of a new law. Towns and cities can enact ordinances regulating adult entertainment establishments without triggering a requirement that they adopt a comprehensive plan.

Another law creates a statewide residential building code, which conforms to international standards. Maine towns may adopt the state code voluntarily.

Maine’s Freedom of Access laws will prevent government agencies from imposing unreasonable restrictions when people request public documents. A new change will also protect towns from unreasonable requests from the public.

A new law will give prisoners – not including those serving time for murder, sex crimes or domestic violence – more time off for good behavior. The change is intended to make more room in the crowded prisons. Probation for certain crimes is also reduced.

In highway accidents in which someone dies or might die, a blood test must be given to the driver.

AP-ES-07-25-04 1230EDT

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