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Associated Press, Published July 31 2013

Hundreds of new laws hit the books in North Dakota

BISMARCK — More than 320 new laws will take effect Thursday in North Dakota, including limits on abortion, a repeal of a ban that prohibits some convicted criminals from running for city council and a measure that allows permitted parishioners to pack a gun in church.

Cruelty to animals can be prosecuted as a felony in North Dakota beginning Thursday, making South Dakota the only state without felony penalties for animal mistreatment.

A measure that gives gun owners the right to sue if the government attempts to confiscate weapons or ammunition during a declared state of emergency goes on the books Thursday, as does a law banning the use of Medicaid funding for surrogate mothers.

In the past, someone convicted of "malfeasance, bribery, or other corrupt practice or crime" could not run for city council in North Dakota. On Thursday, they can.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed 503 bills into law this year after the Republican-led Legislature took the entire 80 days allowed by law to finish its work.

Most of the laws take effect Aug. 1, although spending bills generally become law in July.

On Sunday, there may be more firearms in church now that they are no longer gun-free zones in North Dakota. Legislation sponsored by Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, allows someone with a concealed weapon permit to carry a gun at church if officials there allow it.

"The decision of whether you may carry a gun in a church is one for that church — not the government — to make," Koppelman told The Associated Press. "If there is a threat at the church now someone can do something about it. In the past, they haven't been able to."

The Legislature this year passed a spate abortion measures that give the state the toughest restrictions in the nation. A federal judge last week blocked the most restrictive measure that bans abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected — as early as six weeks into pregnancy. On Thursday, a law that bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy takes effect, as does a measure that prohibits abortions based on sex selection or a genetic defect, such as Down syndrome.

Abortion-rights activists have said the latter two laws don't affect the state's sole abortion clinic in Fargo because such abortions are not done there.

Besides abortion and gun measures, testimony on animal cruelty-related legislation drew some of the largest crowds at the Capitol during this year's session.

The measure's main sponsor Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, said similar legislation had failed in the past two sessions. Now in cases of abuse, neglect or abandonment a first offense would be a misdemeanor and a third within 10 years a felony.

"The new law provides clearer processes and definitions with penalties that match up with the severity and frequency of the bad act," Flakoll said.

So-called usual and customary practices used in livestock production, animal racing, rodeos, hunting and fishing are exempt from the new law.

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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.