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O’Malley signs chicken feed arsenic ban

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland next year will become the first state to ban an arsenic additive in chicken feed.

Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the measure into law on Tuesday along with scores of other bills, including reforms to Maryland’s estate tax to help protect family farms and an increase of the allowable high school dropout age from 16 to 17 in 2015 and to 18 in 2017.

Del. Tom Hucker, D-Montgomery, described the ban on the additive in chicken feed as a health and environmental benefit. The measure bans roxarsone, a chemical that’s used to help chickens grow and fight parasites.

Pfizer Inc., the company that produces roxarsone, stopped selling the chemical in July after a U.S. Food and Drug Administration study found higher inorganic arsenic levels in chickens given the additive.

Hucker said the law is needed to prevent the chemical from being brought back.

“It makes perfect sense that we’re taking action today to get it out of the environment and the food supply, and we know other states are going to follow our lead,” Hucker said.

Del. Aisha Braveboy, D-Prince George’s, said the phased-in raising of the dropout age means “by 2017, all students in Maryland must stay in school until they reach their 18th birthday.”

“We think that’s important,” Braveboy said. “This law hasn’t changed since 1947. Maryland was behind the times on this issue; we’re now at the front as we should be.”

O’Malley, a Democrat, also signed the Family Farm Preservation Act of 2012. The law, which takes effect in July, reduces the current estate tax rate from 16 percent to 5 percent for Maryland farms valued over $5 million. The law will recapture the tax obligation if the farm is taken out of agricultural use within 10 years.

“We’re reforming our estate tax so that no family has to be forced to sell the farm when a member of the family dies in order to pay taxes,” O’Malley said.

Other measures signed by the governor include:

—a bill requiring Maryland public schools to keep epinephrine on hand to give to students in the event of a life-threatening allergic reaction.

—The Iran Certification Act, which makes Maryland one of five states to pass sanctions to prevent businesses from engaging in relations with Iran.

—The Maryland Innovation Initiative, a partnership between the state and Maryland universities to help get new technology into the marketplace.

—The Handling Human Remains with Dignity Act, which makes changes to the requirements for funeral establishments regarding the handling of bodies.