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America's Silliest Laws

by Bill Winter
LP News Editor

"Laws are like sausages. It is better not to see them made." Or so Otto von Bismark once said.

He may be right. But it sure would have been fun to watch the debate when the Portland, Maine, city council passed a law against tickling a girl under her chin with a feather duster.

Felonious feather dusting. What were they thinking?

A similar question could be asked of politicians in Clarendon, Texas. They made it against the law to use a feather duster to clean any public building.

And in Borger, Texas, politicians made it a crime to throw a feather duster.

Why are lawmakers so preoccupied with feather dusters?

Why not? Feather dusters are just one of countless objects, actions, animals, utterances, and activities that politicians have banned, regulated, and (occasionally) mandated over the years.

The litany of ludicrous legislation is not surprising. There are 435 members of the U.S. House. Another 100 U.S. Senators. Fifty governors. A total of 7,424 state legislators. And a whopping 500,000 elected officials at the state, county, and local level, according to Campaigns & Elections magazine.

These politicians must do something to earn their pay.

So they legislate. Everything. Anything.

In fact, a review of the peculiar laws on the books around the USA illustrates that nothing -- repeat, nothing -- escapes a lawmaker's lust to legislate.

In Mesquite, Texas, for example, it's a crime for children to have unusual haircuts.

In San Francisco, it's illegal to pile horse manure more than six feet high on a street corner. (Five feet high? That's OK.)

In Washington state, it's a crime to pretend your parents are rich.

In San Francisco, it's a crime to clean your car with used underwear. (So don't wash your Audi with your undies.)

In Atlanta, it's illegal to tie a giraffe to a telephone pole.

In McLough, Kansas, it's illegal to wash your false teeth in a public drinking fountain.

And in Bexley, Ohio, it's illegal to install slot machines in an outhouse. (No word on whether they also banned craps.)

Some laws seem designed to deal with absurdly trivial problems.

In Salt Lake County, Utah, it's illegal to walk down the street carrying a violin in a paper bag. (Thus solving half the problem of too much sex and violins.)

In New York, it's illegal to knit while serving on jury duty. (If you knit, you must quit.)

And in Everett, Washington, it's illegal to display a hypnotized person in a store window. (Sure-fire legal defense: "Officer, I haven't broken the law. That's Al Gore.".

Other laws seem designed to prohibit activity that, frankly, ain't gonna happen anyway.

In Hawaii, for example, it's illegal to insert pennies into your ears. (Which seems to unfairly target criminals who confuse their heads with gumball machines.)

In Champaign, Illinois, it's illegal to urinate into a neighbor's mouth. (Lawmakers don't want to give a new meaning to "A Taste of Champaign.")

In Trout Creek, Utah, it's a crime for a pharmacist to sell gunpowder to cure headaches. (No word on whether it's a crime to sell aspirin to fire a gun.)

And in Florida, it's specifically against the law to have sexual relations with a porcupine. (We see the point.)

Speaking of illegal lust, if you object to politicians regulating what goes on in your bedroom -- or your front lawn! -- you'll be appalled at all the "Sex Police" laws on the books.

In Willodale, Oregon, it's illegal for a husband to talk dirty during sex. In Newcastle, Wyoming, it's illegal to have sex while standing in a store's walk-in meat freezer. (Favorite pick-up line in Newcastle: "Is that an icicle, or are you planning to break the law?") In Bozeman, Montana, a law bans all sexual activity from the front yard of a home after sundown.

In Liberty Corner, New Jersey, couples face jail time if they accidentally sound the horn while having sex in a car. (Designed to curb, ahem, excessive horn-iness.) And in Tremonton, Utah, it's a misdemeanor to have sex while riding in an ambulance.

Politicians in Iowa were more proactive in preventing improper procreation. They made it a crime for any kiss to last more than five minutes.

Alas, humans aren't the only ones having fun. There is also the problem of -- well, there is no delicate way to say this -- animal sex. We mean canine copulation. Feline fornication. Wildlife whoopee.

But a million years of evolutionary imperative didn't daunt politicians. They'll make it go away by simply passing laws against it.

In Los Angeles, politicians made it a crime for dogs to mate within 500 feet of a church. The California legislature -- realizing that this law was woefully inadequate -- made it illegal for any animal to mate within 1,500 feet of a tavern, school, or church.

In Fairbanks, Alaska they had a bigger problem. So they made it illegal for two moose to have sex on city sidewalks. (Which means loose moose can still engage in legal threesomes. Call it a menagerie a trois.)

After sex -- illegal or otherwise -- what does every animal want? A cigarette, of course. And perhaps a nightcap.

Forget it. Politicians long ago realized that tobacco-smoking, booze-swilling animals are a major problem.

So in Meadville, New Jersey, it's illegal to offer cigarettes or whiskey to animals at the local zoo. In Zion, Illinois, it's illegal to give a lighted cigar to a dog, cat, or other domesticated animal. In Chicago, it's illegal to give whiskey to a dog. In Oklahoma, it's a crime to get a fish drunk. (They prefer their whiskey with a splash of water, by the way.) And in Natchez, Missouri, it's illegal to give beer or other intoxicants to an elephant.

Speaking of elephants, politicians have passed an unusual number of laws regulating the lumbering beasts. And camels, too.

In San Francisco, it's a crime for elephants to stroll down Market Street unless they're on a leash. In Palm Springs, California, it's illegal to walk a camel down Palm Canyon Drive between 4:00 and 6:00 pm. In North Carolina, it's illegal to plow your cotton fields with an elephant. And in Arizona, it's a crime to hunt camels within state borders. (Sure-fire legal defense: "Your honor, that is one ugly deer.")

When criminals aren't trying to get animals to puff Marlboros or guzzle Jack Daniels, they're just, well, bothering them.

This must stop.

So, in Oklahoma, you can be arrested for making ugly faces at a dog. In Texas, it's illegal to put graffiti on someone else's cow. In Excelsior Springs, Missouri, it's a crime to "worry" a squirrel. In Hayden, Arizona, it's a crime to bother bullfrogs. In Alabama, it's against the law to try to teach a bear to wrestle.

Meanwhile, in Galesburg, Illinois, there is a $1,000 fine for beating rats with a baseball bat. Frankly, it's cheaper to molest butterflies in Pacific Grove, California. You face only a $500 fine for that crime.

Moving from animals to everyday items, politicians have recognized danger -- and the urgent need for more laws -- where ordinary folks don't. How else to explain the spate of laws about...ice cream?

Yes. Around the nation, lawmakers have passed almost as many anti-ice cream laws as Ben and Jerry sells flavors.

In Newark, New Jersey, it's illegal to buy ice cream after 6:00 pm unless you have a note from your doctor. In Kentucky, it's illegal to carry ice cream in your back pocket.

In Carmel, California, it was illegal to eat ice cream on the sidewalk. That law was repealed by Clint Eastwood when he was mayor -- thus burnishing his Libertarian reputation. Unfortunately for citizens in Lexington, Kentucky, Dirty Harry didn't make their day. Eating ice cream on the sidewalk is still a crime there.

But food felonies -- and the hunger to regulate them -- go beyond ice cream.

In Memphis, Tennessee, it's illegal to take an unfinished slice of pie home from a diner. In Oklahoma, it's against the law to take a bite of someone else's hamburger. (Known as the "hamburgler Law.") And in Ocean City, New Jersey, it's a crime to slurp your soup in a restaurant.

OK, there must be something that politicians don't regulate. How about...bathtubs?

Try again. Seemingly innocuous, bathtubs can be used illegally as a sleeping place for donkeys (a crime in Arizona); as a location for singing (a crime in Pennsylvania), or as a storage place for alligators (a crime in Arkansas).

Meanwhile, in a brilliantly unpredictable move, lawmakers in Kansas City, Missouri made it a crime to install a bathtub with four legs resembling animal paws.

After bathtubs, serious criminals graduate to swimming pools, which is why politicians in Baldwin Park, California made it a crime to ride a bicycle in one.

And, in a related law, lawmakers in West Virginia made it a crime to whistle underwater.

Bad words are also a constant problem, and have been dealt with harshly.

Politicians in Logan, Utah, made it a crime for women to swear. Long Beach, California had a more specialized problem, so they baned cursing only on mini-golf courses. And in Texas, politicians decided to protect people who weren't going to complain anyway: They made it a crime to curse in front of a corpse.

Spitting is another vice that can only be dealt with by -- yes! -- more laws. (What did you expectorate?)

In Burlingame, California, it's a crime to spit anywhere, except on a baseball diamond. (Making you safe from the state's three-strikes law.) In Freeport, Illinois, it's illegal to spit from any second-story window. In Alabama, it's a crime for men to spit in the presence of women. And in Lafayette, California it's a crime to spit within five feet of another person.

When it comes to music, the statutory song remains the same.

Felony melodies are a constant problem, which is why in Santa Monica, California, it's illegal to play percussion instruments on the beach. In Oneida, Tennessee, it's illegal to sing the song, "It Ain't Goin' to Rain No Mo'." In Salt Lake County, Utah, it's illegal for a trombonist to advertise a public auction. And in Cicero, Illinois, it's even a crime to hum -- but only on Sundays.

Fishing is another topic that tapped lawmakers' "let's-legislate" reflex.

In Utah, they made it a crime to fish from horseback. In Kansas, it's illegal to catch fish with your bare hands. In Tennessee, it's a crime to use a lasso to catch a fish. In Chicago, it's illegal to fish while sitting on a giraffe's neck. (And don't even think about tying your giraffe to a telephone pole.)

Back in the days when men totally dominated politics, they spent considerable time legislating what women were allowed to wear.

In Tucson, Arizona and Sidney, Illinois, it's illegal for ladies to wear pants. In Merryville, Missouri, it's a crime for a woman to wear a corset. Meanwhile, in Norfolk, Virginia, it's a crime for a woman to appear in public without a corset.

In Cleveland, Ohio, women are banned from wearing patent-leather shoes. In El Paso, Texas, it's illegal for a woman to wear a "lewd dress" in public. And in California, it's a crime for a woman to drive a car while wearing a housecoat.

Trying to balance the scales a little, lawmakers in Carmel, New York, made it illegal for a man to publicly wear trousers and pants that don't match. In Blythe, California, it's a crime for a man to wear cowboy boots unless he owns at least two head of cattle. And in Nogales, Arizona, they banned men from wearing suspenders. (So you can uphold the law, but not your trousers.)

Politicians, undaunted by the stench of corruption wafting from state capitols and city halls, also declared a War on Bad Smells. Call it Law and Odor.

In Alexandria, Minnesota, it's a crime for a man to make love to his wife if he smells of onions or sardines. In Port Arthur, Texas, it's against the law to emit "obnoxious odors" in an elevator. And in Gary, Indiana, it's a crime to get on a street car within four hours of eating garlic.

In a related law, in Houston, Texas, it's illegal to sell Limburger cheese on Sunday.

Sometimes, politicians simply get the urge to ban something.

In Evanston, Illinois, they banned bowling. In Purdy, Missouri they banned dancing. (Calling Kevin Bacon!) In Sidney, Illinois, they banned kite flying. In Washington state they banned lollipops. (Which ticked off the Lollipop Guild in no small way.) In Lodi, California, they banned Silly String.

Sometimes, politicians get the urge to mandate something.

In Acworth, Georgia, every citizen is required to own a rake. In South Carolina, fortune tellers are required to get a business license. (Hopefully, they saw that law coming.) And in Utah, it's a crime NOT to drink milk. "Got milk?" Better get it.)

Then there are politicians who get mad at misdemeanor mispronunciations. In Arkansas, it's a crime not to pronounce the state's name Arkan-SAW. And in Joliet, Illinois, you face a $5 fine if you pronounce it Jolly-ETTE, instead of the correct Joe-lee-ETTE.

Let's end this list of senseless statutes and outrageous ordinances by breaking a law. By federal statute, it's a crime anywhere in the United States to give a false weather report.

So, here's our forecast: Tomorrow, it will be warm and sunny. And tomorrow, busybody politicians -- perhaps in your town -- will pass yet another foolish, useless, intrusive law.

Looking over the list of silly laws already on the books, you might be tempted to say: "There oughta be a law...against ludicrous laws."

But don't go there. It only encourages them.


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