Politicians can't stop passing absurd laws

POLITICS: Politicians can’t stop passing absurd laws

It’s illegal for donkeys to sleep in bathtubs in Arizona. Sound familiar? It should. This choice nugget is just one of many absurd laws that politicians have been able to dream up. There are so many of them — and so many of them are so absurd — that a book about these laws made the rounds back in the ’90s.  

In Utah, you can’t fish from horseback. Mobile, Alabama bans the sale of silly-string. For decades, Connecticut has regulated the bounciness — yes, bounciness — of pickles! You get the idea. Want more, there are plenty of others online.

Alas, these aren’t just historical oddities, nor has the well of ill-advised ideas run dry. For a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. And for too many lawmakers, the solution for every problem — real or imagined — is a law that limits our freedom.

Arizona’s donkeys sleeping in bathtubs ordinance reveals a tendency for legislators to react to any controversy by succumbing to the call: “There ought to be a law.” The result of this thinking is that government forever grows and forever loses focus on its proper functions, like protecting individual rights, promoting public safety, and ensuring rule of law.

California lawmakers are proposing a ban on calling nut-based milk products like almond milk, er, milk. ColleenMichaels – stock.adobe.com

Take New York. To kick off the new year, state lawmakers, in their wisdom, are contemplating compelling some Chick-Fil-A restaurant locations to be open on Sundays. Never mind that the First Amendment prohibits the government from forcing businesses to open in violation of their religious convictions.

Or that other restaurants exist in the Empire State happily serving chicken sandwiches on Sundays. Chick-Fil-A makes for a tasty culture war issue, so lawmakers are drawn to it . . . apparently like Arizona donkeys to bathtubs.

Americans have even more examples of ludicrous law-making to look forward to in 2024. A new California law micromanages stores by requiring major retailers to offer gender-neutral toy aisles. The Federal Highway Association wants to ban safety signs that both prevent crashes and — gasp! — help make people feel good during their daily commute. No more signage “intended to be humorous,” the government has declared. 

And after the Biden Administration proposed banning gas stoves last year, New York just went ahead and did it themselves. Unless lawsuits succeed or sanity prevails, New Yorkers will soon have to increase their use of electricity – adding to the burden of families already juggling rising food and energy costs.

Not to be outdone, some lawmakers are also trying to outlaw calling almond milk “almond milk” to save people from thinking nuts come from cows. In California, lawmakers want to ban people from putting up signs for lemonade stands and garage sales. Need more? How about a proposed law dictating the type of “on-hold” music companies can play when customers call. (Okay, that last one is Canada. But you get the point.)

In some cases, these very bad ideas are laws that have been around for a while — maybe even long enough that we’ve forgotten what a terrible idea they were in the first place. Louisiana, for instance, requires florists to have a florist license. To protect the public from . . . tulips? But Louisiana isn’t alone. Many states regulate not just your local flower shop, but require often timely and expensive occupational licenses for hair braiders, graphic designers, and parking valets to name a few. 

How about this for crazy, in Connecticut, there is a law regulating the bounciness of pickles SunnyS – stock.adobe.com
The South is not immune to unnecessary regulation — in Louisiana, florists must have a formal license to tend to, well, flowers. Myroslava – stock.adobe.com

Increasingly Americans are turning to the courts when lawmakers pass nonsensical laws that infringe on their freedoms. And courts are certainly part of the answer. But as the example of those long-established occupational licensing laws demonstrates, courts have their limits.

Courts routinely uphold these laws. But not because they believe they make sense, because judges naturally bend over backward to defer to lawmakers in order to appease the voters who elected them. If courts can dream up ANY “rational basis” for these laws, they’ll likely uphold them. The bar is incredibly low. 

So instead of putting the burden on judges, let’s do our part. We did, after all, elect these people (at least the legislators we did elect, not the bureaucrats who sometimes act as though we did). And we can vote them out if we don’t like the pointless rules they’re making. Citizens don’t do the lawmakers, the courts, or the country any favor if we ask judges to babysit lawmakers (and we are, all of the time). Voters are the ones who should hold politicians accountable — not the court system.

One of the most inane laws imaginable is an Arizona ordinance that prohibits donkeys from sleeping in bathtubs. For the Love of Donkeys/Facebook

As we move into 2024, the ask for our elected officials is simple – even if doing it well is hard. It’s to focus on their jobs. The job of the government is to keep our families and property safe; to ensure our civil liberties are defended. We want our politicians to spend our tax dollars prudently and keep inflation low. So just do that. And leave us to navigate the other daily pressures of life – like where to buy chicken sandwiches on Sundays, the qualifications of my florist, and where those donkeys like to sleep.

Casey Mattox is an attorney and vice president of legal and judicial strategy at Americans for Prosperity.

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