Junk laws good for nothing but a laugh

If you ever wanted to try to catch a fish with a lasso, you can think again. In the state of Tennessee, this is an illegal activity.

It is also illegal to share Netflix passwords; shoot any game from a moving vehicle, with the exception of whales; to hold state public office if you have been in a duel; have more than five inoperable vehicles on a piece of property; or for a woman to call a man for a date.

Outside of Tennessee, the list continues. The state of Alabama prohibits bear wrestling. In Florida, if you tie your elephant to a parking meter, you must pay the fee like it would be paid for a car.

These laws may make a person stop and laugh or gape in awe, perhaps even a combination of both. However, they are still laws and are still on the books. Collectively these pieces of legislature are called “junk laws.”

“Most of these tend to be fairly antiquated stuff,” Dr. Christopher Baxter, UTM associate professor of Political Science, said when asked by the Communications 300 class during an interview in November. “There are a lot of these things that look odd or have been there for a hundred years, and nobody has just taken them off of the books.”

Many of these laws concern religion, gender roles and relationship conduct, reflecting previous societal ways of thinking and providing historical context.

For example, in Indiana it is against the law to pass a horse in the street. Women are not allowed to wear patent leather shoes in public in Ohio or buy a hat without the permission of their husbands in Owensboro, Kentucky. In Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, attendees are not allowed to whisper in church.

In some cases, these junk laws are invalidated by the 14th Amendment.

“When courts reinterpret or take something off the books they say they’re unconstitutional but technically the language of the law may still be there,” Baxter said. “It’s just not enforceable because the Supreme Court said you can’t enforce that.”

In light of the existence of these laws, the question “Why?” has many possible answers.

One of these potential answers is the process. Stripping a law from, in the case of the state of Tennessee, the TCA or Tennessee Code Annotated, is a long process. The TCA is the set of recorded laws that has been passed by the state legislature. It also contains an annotated segment where footnotes and references are added.

To be taken off the books, a law must go through the same process that it originally went through to become a law. Any changes made must be approved by the state House of Representatives and the Senate.

The governing state body, the General Assembly, meets once every two years for 180 days, beginning in January. To get a bill to be considered for review, it must first be sponsored by a member of Congress, who will then oversee the bill as it continues throughout the debate and voting processes. Bills are passed through the House and Senate after three separate readings. By day three, it is referred to committee by the chair. If it passes committee, it moves to the other body of government.

Additionally, there is a time constraint when this is done. Bills must be passed within their term of proposal, otherwise they die.

A law passed in 2013, by House Speaker Beth Harwell, further poses another problem. With the law, legislators can introduce a maximum of 15 bills a year.

“It’s a long process,” Baxter said. “Is it worth your time and effort if you know that it wouldn’t last anyway?”

Obviously for most legislators, the answer is no.

 

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