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Pruning ordinances

Jun 30, 2017 By Steven R. Peck, Publisher

When local rules and regs have outlivedthemselves, they ought to be eliminated

Every so often a comedian or a columnist gets a laugh by pointing out the antiquated laws and ordinances that remain on the books in various places, long after they have ceased to be necessary - if they ever truly were in the first place.

You know the type: "In Smalltown USA, it's officially a crime to eat ice cherry-chunk cream while tap dancing on the seat of a bicycle."

The city of Riverton is re-examining, rewriting, reconsidering and, in some cases, repealing some of its "archaic" ordinances, to use the word favored by interim chief of police Eric Murphy.

Almost every state or town has some of these. Naturally, there's a website on the topic (more than one, in fact), revealing such statutory gems as, "A licensed liquor store may not sell milk" (Indiana, supposedly); "A man may not appear in public with a shaved chest" (Omaha, Nebraska, apparently); and "It shall be illegal for an individual or individuals to take a nap in a cheese factory or creamery," which is said to be a state law in Illinois.

Riverton's examination of local ordinances didn't reveal anything hilarious, but the city does have a handful of regulations that have been recommended for repeal, including one on vagrancy which, among other things, prohibits a person deemed "able to work and support himself" from "strolling about."

Already in the process of being repealed are ordinances about treating police dogs kindly, a prohibition of "secret stalls" in certain business establishments, and local rules about "adultery or illicit intercourse."

Unsuitable laws often are products of their time in history, when an isolated incident or the actions of a particular individual were deemed uncontrollable any other way.

Often they seem to be a reflection of the opinions of local leaders who had no legal standing or administrative experience and just appeared to be winging it in trying to establish law and order.

Sometimes old laws are shown to be discriminatory or otherwise unacceptable to modern society,and occasionally they can be in direct conflict with other rules on the books.

Bigger problems can crop up when an activist citizen demands that an obsolete law be enforced, or, conversely, files suit when subjected to such a law. Such cases can bring unwanted attention and ridicule to the local government, to say nothing of very real legal ramifications if the right citizen with the right attorney wants to make an issue of a strange old regulation.

In Wyoming, a municipality is a state institution, and state laws usually are sufficient to keep order and administer justice. Local ordinances are recommended only when a very specific set of circumstances exists that can be addressed fairly and legally by local government.

A periodic bit of housekeeping in the city rulebook is a good idea. It can remove laws that are outdated, unenforceable or simply unnecessary.Government laws and ordinances are intended to resolve legal issues, not cause them.

Sometimes an old law simply needs to go. It's a good bit of local governing for Riverton to examine its local ordinances and apply the pruning shears as needed.

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2017-09-24