8 Odd State and Local Laws

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Back in the day, it was illegal in some places to spit on public sidewalks. Probably that was because diseases like tuberculosis were rampant, but the laws may remain on the books.

Technically it’s against the law to use a catapult in Aspen, Colorado. However, the code actually focuses on throwing stones, snowballs or other objects in various ways.

And some unusual laws exist for the sake of publicity. For example, a 1961 law in the city of Gainesville, Florida, made it illegal to eat fried chicken with a fork, to promote the poultry industry there.

No one will really arrest you for spitting on the ground, flinging a snowball or eating chicken with utensils, right?

Probably not, but who can say? Some odd laws might land you in front of a judge, trying to explain why you thought it was a good idea to start importing skunks. Here are some examples of very offbeat legislation.

1. Selling children to the circus

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Kids getting on your nerves? Well, you can’t sell ’em to the circus if they’re under 12 and you live in Georgia.

Your under-12 offspring cannot be sold, given away or even apprenticed as a performer (or in the service of the performance of) “rope or wire walking, begging, or as a gymnast, contortionist, circus rider, acrobat or clown.”

It’s a misdemeanor if you do. Or so says the Georgia Department of Labor. Although this bill was originally enacted in 1879, it’s still in the current version of the “Georgia Laws and Rules Regulating Employment of Children.”

2. Wearing masks or costumes during meetings

People with painted faces
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A law concerning “Prohibited Secret Societies and Activities” in North Carolina forbids (among other things) anyone over 16 to wear “a mask, hood or device whereby the person, face or voice is disguised so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, hold any manner of meeting, or make any demonstration upon the private property of another” without permission of the property owner.

The law doesn’t specifically mention the Ku Klux Klan, whose members famously donned hoods to terrorize targeted groups. However, it does prohibit the placement of any “burning or flaming cross” as well as “any exhibit of any kind whatsoever … with the intention of intimidating any person or persons,” including items such as nooses.

Some exceptions exist, including seasonal holiday garb, theatrical productions, gas masks during civil defense drills and required safety gear worn by tradespeople.

3. Proposing marriage for the purpose of seduction

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“Baby, you know I love you. Please stay the night! What? Marriage? Um, OK: Will you marry me? Great! Now you can stay over.”

Don’t try this ruse in South Carolina. The Palmetto State has a “seduction under promise of marriage” statute, which holds that men 16 and older may not seduce an unmarried woman “by means of deception and promise of marriage.”

This promise must be corroborated by someone other than the woman in question. And if it’s proved at trial that the woman was “lewd and unchaste,” the guy is off the hook. Also, you can’t be convicted if you actually marry her.

The possible penalty if convicted of this misdemeanor: a fine or a jail term of up to a year.

4. Possessing non-biodegradable confetti

A happy senior celebrates with champagne
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These days a lot of confetti is plastic, which means it doesn’t melt in the rain or return to the soil. Banning it seems like a no-brainer, right? But according to AL.com, it took a month to ban the plastic flakes in Mobile, Alabama.

Before this, the law regarding confetti was a bit confused. One section of city code made it illegal to “have, use, sell, make or handle” any kind of confetti in Mobile. Another section of code allowed people — Mardi Gras revelers, especially — to throw serpentine, a kind of coiled confetti.

Thanks to a couple of Mobile City Council members, the local streets and waterways are a little safer. It now is illegal to “have in possession, keep, store, use, manufacture sell, offer for sale, give away or handle any non-biodegradable, plastic-based confetti, serpentine, or other substance or matters similar thereto within the city or within its police jurisdiction.”

Good to know if you’re heading to the Azalea City.

5. Handling snakes in religious services

A woman holds a snake
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According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, a Kentucky state law passed in 1940 makes it illegal to include real-life serpents (as opposed to metaphorical ones) in a religious service:

“Any person who displays, handles or uses any kind of reptile in connection with any religious service or gathering shall be fined not less than $50 nor more than $100.”

Similar laws exist in Virginia and Tennessee.

Snake-handling remains a tenet of small religious sects in the Appalachia region, whose adherents cite the Bible phrase, “They shall take up serpents” and believe that the power of God will save them from being bitten. (It doesn’t always work.)

Writes the Courier-Journal:

“Cultists have been arrested, fined and jailed, but instead of discouraging them it has made them more determined.”

6. Interfering with dogsleds

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Dog mushing is the official state sport of Alaska, and people take it very seriously there.

The state’s largest city, Anchorage, has a 20-mile sled dog track within the city limits and a junior mushing race series. The city puts snow on downtown streets every year for a big race and also for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod.

But in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, to the north, they take mushing super-super-seriously. So many mushers live and train in the Mat-Su that there’s a law regarding “interference with a mushing facility or with lawful mushing activity.”

Matanuska-Susitna Borough ordinance 14-150 calls for a fine of up to $1,000 and/or 90 days in the pokey if you interfere with a musher’s facility or if you do something to “stop, delay, divert, impede, frighten, harm, or otherwise cause sled dogs engaged in lawful mushing activity to change their direction or speed,” or to obstruct or physically interfere with dog teams engaged in this activity.

In other words: Drivers should prepare to yield to huskies.

7. Wearing a bulletproof vest while committing murder

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Planning to kill somebody? Leave the Kevlar at home; it’ll just make things worse.

A New Jersey statute goes after “unlawful use of body vests” — and not just for murder.

You are also guilty of a crime if you wear bullet-resistant body armor while “engaged in the commission of, or an attempt to commit, or flight after committing or attempting to commit … manslaughter, robbery, sexual assault, burglary, kidnapping, criminal escape or assault.”

I’m from New Jersey and I can only say, this sounds like New Jersey.

8. Taking a skunk across state lines

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In Tennessee, it is a Class C misdemeanor to “import, possess or cause to be imported into this state any type of live skunk, or to sell, barter, exchange or otherwise transfer any live skunk.”

Well, there goes that part-time gig, all you Volunteer State side-hustlers.

There’s an exception for zoos and researchers.

No mention was made of the importation of dead skunks. And no, it wasn’t called “the Pepe Le Pew Bill.” Maybe it should have been.

Does your town, county or state have other wacky antique or special-purpose rules? Tell us about them in a comment below or at Money Talks News’ Facebook page.

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