Legislators love legislating, and sometimes they love it a little bit too much. That’s when you end up with crazy laws that are actually real and never should have never been on the books in the first place.
There’s the legend that you couldn’t cross state lines with a duck on your head in Minnesota (duck headwear aficionados should be happy to find out that there’s no such regulation) or that pickles that didn’t bounce couldn’t be sold in Connecticut (there’s a grain of truth to this, but not really; back in 1948, when testing pickles to determine whether they were fit for human consumption, health officials used a bounce test in addition to laboratory tests to fine a pickle producer. It wasn’t a law, however).
Myths of overregulation in America are as old as overregulation in America — which is to say, they stretch back quite a while. However, some of these laws are actually true — and here’s a list of 10 of them.
Crazy Law #1: Don’t pretend to sleep on boardwalk benches in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
We’ll start our survey of crazy laws that are real with the first state: Delaware, home of banking conglomerates, Joe Biden, Empire Records and some of the finest beaches you’ll find along the Atlantic coast. However, if you decide to come to the boardwalk, at least in one town, you’d best not be pretending to sleep on any of the benches there.
According to Section 198-30 of the Rehoboth Beach public code, “No person shall sleep, lie or occupy as a sleeping quarter, or under the guise of pretending to sleep on the boardwalk, any bench located on the boardwalk in any pavilion located at the end of any street or on any bench located on any street. Any violation of this section is declared a civil offense pursuant.”
Now, I get most of this ordinance; you obviously don’t want people who are going to use your public benches as a resting place. However, “under the guise of pretending to sleep?” Even if someone tried to use this before the judge, how could they produce evidence that they were merely pretending to sleep? “Oh, as you can see from this chart of my brain waves, your honor, I was clearly awake and merely pretending to be asleep.” For that matter, what individual would, for reasons aside from sleeping, pretend to be asleep on a park bench?
At least we understand the intent here, but this is one strange law that goes a little bit too far for no good reason.
Crazy Law #2: Don’t collect seaweed at night in New Hampshire
Moving up the Atlantic coast, New Hampshire only has a little less than 20 miles worth of shoreline, but they’re apparently fiercely protective of it.
According to Section 207:48 of New Hampshire’s fish and game code, “If any person shall carry away or collect for the purpose of carrying away any seaweed or rockweed from the seashore below high-water mark, between daylight in the evening and daylight in the morning, he shall be guilty of a violation.”
So, if you’re a sushi maker and are planning on getting some free-range seaweed straight from the Atlantic, don’t even think about it.
As Business Insider points out, there is a little bit of rhyme and reason behind this law; seaweed can be used in everything from fertilizer to Jell-O. However, given New Hampshire’s paucity of coastline, one might think the state would be a bit less protective of this. Also, why only at night? Plenty of good questions, few answers.
Crazy Law #3: Confetti Control in Alabama
Mobile, Alabama is located along the Gulf Coast, which means there are plenty of opportunities for partying — including the city’s Mardi Gras celebration, which is a blast without being quite so touristy as New Orleans’ version.
However, if you’re coming into Mobile, you’d better not be concealed-carrying any confetti.
“It shall be unlawful and an offense against the city for any person to have in possession, keep, store, use, manufacture, sell, offer for sale, give away or handle any confetti or other substance or matters similar thereto, but not serpentine, within the city or within its police jurisdiction,” Section 39-77 of city code reads.
Yes, not just confetti, but any “other substance or matters similar thereto, but not serpentine.” I don’t even pretend to get that. I can understand confetti is a mess sometimes, but given that you can just make it with a paper shredder, this is one law that sounds very difficult to enforce.
Crazy Law #4: Indiana liquor stores can’t sell cooled soda or other mixers
Ah, Indiana. A fine state to spend the summer in, whether it’s taking in the Indianapolis 500 or simply the scenery. It’s also a great time to sip on a nice, cool mixed drink. However, if you want one, you’d better plan ahead — all thanks to yet another crazy law.
According to Indiana Code Title 7.1, “A package liquor store’s exclusive business” can only sell “(u)ncooled and uniced charged water, carbonated soda, ginger ale, mineral water, grenadine, and flavoring extracts.”
Apparently, you need to get your chilled drinks elsewhere. This is going to stop … well, we’re not sure. I can see how effective this would be, however. I mean, say you found yourself in Decatur, Indiana and bought some rum from Decatur Package Liquor Store. Where on earth would you pick up some chilled Coke if you wanted to mix it?
Well, I haven’t the foggiest. Surely there wouldn’t be a store (like CVS) right across the street. You win again, bureaucrats.
Crazy Law # 5: You can’t pump your own gas in Oregon or New Jersey
In the annals of crazy laws that are real, this is probably the most well-known. Only two states in the whole of this fruited plain believe that you’re incapable of pumping gas for yourself: New Jersey on the East Coast and Oregon on the West Coast.
As for its infamy, well, consider the reaction in Oregon when, beginning on Jan. 1, 2018, gas stations in counties with 40,000 residents or less could make their stations self-serve.
The cacophony on Facebook was an eye-opener to many who believed rural Oregonians were rugged, self-sufficient types.
“I don’t even know HOW to pump gas and I am 62, native Oregonian . . . I say NO THANKS! I don’t like to smell like gasoline!” one Oregonian wrote.
“I’ve lived in this state all my life and I REFUSE to pump my own gas . . . This (is) a service only qualified people should perform. I will literally park at the pump and wait until someone pumps my gas,” another wrote.
Yes, apparently you need to be “qualified” to pump your own gas in Oregon. Let’s face facts: These laws are crazy but serve a purpose as make-work laws, creating a position for gas station attendant that wouldn’t have otherwise existed.
Crazy Law #6: Once you’re drunk, you can’t be in a bar in the state of Alaska
Most of us, hopefully, have gotten past the point where we visit bars like college kids under the pretenses of drinking as much in as little time as humanly possible. Hopefully, we never even went through that stage. Most of us just enjoy a pint or two responsibly as we watch the game or talk shop with our co-workers.
However, sometimes people don’t know when to say when — and in Alaska, that makes for some very blurry lawmaking.
Title 4, Chapter 16 of Alaskan law deals with alcoholic beverages. It states that “A licensee, an agent, or employee may not with criminal negligence … sell, give, or barter alcoholic beverages to a drunken person … allow another person to sell, give, or barter an alcoholic beverage to a drunken person within licensed premises … (or) allow a drunken person to enter and remain within licensed premises or to consume an alcoholic beverage within licensed premises.”
Sounds straightforward enough, until you get to Section 40: “A drunken person may not knowingly enter or remain on premises licensed under this title.”
In other words, if you realize you’re feeling slightly tipsy in a bar, you’ve committed a crime. And furthermore, you can’t continue to hang around. I’m pretty sure this one isn’t exactly enforced with an iron fist up in the nation’s 49th state, if merely because of practical reasons.
Crazy Law #7: No eating frog-jumping contest frogs in California
I’m assuming, based on available evidence, that California is pretty much ground zero for frog-jumping competitions. (You can define “available evidence” here as Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”) That’s the reason behind the crazy law that is Chapter 7, Article 2 of California’s fish and game code.
It states: “Any person may possess any number of live frogs to use in frog-jumping contests, but if such a frog dies or is killed, it must be destroyed as soon as possible, and may not be eaten or otherwise used for any purpose.”
In fact, my “available evidence” isn’t actually too far off the mark for why this law exists. In honor of Twain, Angels Camp, California hosts the Calaveras County Fair and Frog Jumping Jubilee every year, a four-day event held for well over 80 years which records are often broken. Much in the same way that horse breeders tend to pop up around the biggest racetracks, frog breeders no doubt tend to agglomerate in the vicinity of Calaveras County (which is to the south and east of Sacramento) hoping to snag a prize.
Still, Chapter 7, Article 2 seems oddly specific about what you have to do with a dead athletic amphibian — which is why it makes it into our list of crazy laws.
Crazy Law #8: Llama owners are indemnified against any damage their llamas might cause in the state of Georgia
Eighth on our list of crazy laws that are real involves yet another case of the state deciding it needed to regulate an unusual animal: namely, the llama.
We’ve all seen llamas at the state fair or at llama farms tucked away in unusual places. What happens when the llama causes drama via physical trauma, however? Well, in the state of Georgia, llama owners don’t have to worry about it, thanks to Section 4-12 of the Department of Agriculture’s regulations — which covers horses and llamas.
“The General Assembly recognizes that persons who participate in equine activities or llama activities may incur injuries as a result of the risks involved in such activities. The General Assembly also finds that the state and its citizens derive numerous economic and personal benefits from such activities,” the section reads. “It is, therefore, the intent of the General Assembly to encourage equine activities and llama activities by limiting the civil liability of those involved in such activities.”
I could perhaps understand the equine part. But llamas? Why not alpacas? Donkeys? Are mules regulated under a separate statute? One finds it odd that Georgia felt the need to codify horses and llamas under the same law, or felt the need to deal with llamas at all.
Crazy Law #9: No bingo marathons in North Carolina
Who doesn’t love a game of bingo? Especially if it’s for charity? Well, apparently, some lawmakers in North Carolina don’t, as they’ve limited sessions to five hours and impose other onerous rules on the game.
“The number of sessions of bingo conducted or sponsored by an exempt organization shall be limited to two sessions per week and such sessions must not exceed a period of five hours each per session,” Section 14-309.8 of North Carolina’s gaming law reads. “No two sessions of bingo shall be held within a 48-hour period of time. No more than two sessions of bingo shall be operated or conducted in any one building, hall or structure during any one calendar week and if two sessions are held, they must be held by the same exempt organization.”
Back when I was growing up, bingo was a solid opportunity for members of the church to meet up and have a little fun. I didn’t grow up in North Carolina, so they didn’t live under the haunting thought of being guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor and forfeiture of bingo rights for a year if they went over five hours. Apparently, they’re a little stricter in the Tar Heel State.
Crazy Law #10: Don’t use a ferret in place of a hunting dog in West Virginia
A lot of these weird laws have to do with animals, and West Virginia is no exception. Chapter 17, Section 20-2-5 stipulates that no one may “(h)unt, catch, take, kill, injure or pursue a wild animal or wild bird with the use of a ferret.”
I wasn’t aware that ferret hunting was a thing. I would imagine they certainly aren’t as easily trained as dogs are. Either way, if you are big into this practice, stay away from West Virginia during hunting season. The temptation could simply be too much for you.
Crazy Law #11: Many dairy products in Wisconsin must be “highly pleasing” — or else
Wisconsin takes its dairy seriously, as those who have watched Green Bay Packers home games and seen a sea of foam cheese heads out in the crowd will no doubt attest to. However, few crazy laws that are real are so subjective as numerous Wisconsin standards for cheese, butter and dairy.
Laws in the Badger State, for instance, stipulate that Wisconsin Grade AA butter “shall possess a fine and highly pleasing butter flavor.”
Meanwhile, “Wisconsin grade A or Wisconsin state brand Swiss cheese or emmentaler cheese shall have a pleasing and desirable characteristic Swiss cheese flavor consistent with the age of the cheese.” Wisconsin Grade B cheddar, granular and washed curd cheese, however, only has to “be characterized by a fairly pleasing cheese flavor. The cheese may also possess certain undesirable flavors to a limited degree based on the aged or cured condition of the cheese.”
So, what’s the difference between “highly pleasing” and “fairly pleasing?” One hopes the Wisconsonites know, because I haven’t got a clue.
Most of their product is certainly delicious, though, so I don’t quibble with success — no matter how crazy the law might sound.
Crazy Law #12: If you’ve ever dueled, you can’t hold office in Kentucky
Aaron Burr tried a number of various political comebacks after winning the duel with Alexander Hamilton and losing the vice presidency under Thomas Jefferson. However, he never tried Kentucky. Probably a good thing, since the state seems to frown upon the practice.
Section 228 of the Kentucky constitution, which deals with the oath for officers and attorneys in the state, stipulates that all members must “solemnly swear (or affirm) that since the adoption of the present Constitution, I, being a citizen of this State, have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it, nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have I acted as second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus offending, so help me God.”
Dueling was a very big thing in the South during the 19th century, which probably led to this being part of the state oath. However, in the 21st century, such notions are pretty outdated. If you feel you’ve been maligned by some other public official, you take the battle to where it belongs: social media.
And yes, before you historians send the letter — I know Aaron Burr died in 1836 and the article wasn’t enacted until 1849. Do you know any other famous duelists, though?
This is just a small list of the many crazy laws that are real across this wonderful land. Sure, many of them aren’t as weird as the vestigial laws we often hear about second- or third-hand, but these are actual statutes still on the books that confound us. Some of them originally had meaning, some of them were just the result of overregulation. Either way, they’re bizarre enough that they deserve another look.
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