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The Linguistics of Legislation

Reviewing the outdated, overly conservative and just plain funny laws still on the books

By Hannah McCartney and Maija Zummo · April 10th, 2013 · Cover Story
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In February, Mississippi (finally) officially ratified the 13th Amendment, recognizing the abolition of slavery about a century and a half later than the rest of the union. 

Passed by the Senate in 1864 and the House of Representatives in 1865, Mississippi tried to ratify the 13th Amendment in 1995 (only 130 years late back then), but failed due to a clerical oversight. And while they’ve been getting a lot of flack for the delay — presumably because everyone assumes they’re racists — Mississippi certainly isn’t the first state to lag on validating an amendment.

Once an amendment has been passed by three-quarters of the union, it’s a law; the rest of the states don’t even need to bother with the paperwork. And plenty of states have decided they didn’t want to waste their bureaucratic time affirming trivial legislation such as the outlawing of slavery — heck, Kentucky only ratified ol’ 13 in 1976. And Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and Utah still haven’t ratified the 16th Amendment, allowing Congress to levy a federal income tax, but they’re all still required to pay the taxman on April 15 anyway. 

So there are some laws that pass regardless of a state’s/human’s active stance against or passive disregard for them, and then there are some laws that just stay on the books because people forget about them. 

Until 2008, an obscure law officially banned sangria (and, consequently, beeritas) in Virginia because it was illegal to mix wine or beer with spirits. You can even Google “dumb laws” to find a plethora of once or currently outdated and amusing legislature from the 50 states, such as the fact that you can’t wrestle a bear in Alabama, grab a fish out of a body of water with your bare hands in Indiana (no noodling, y’all) and you can’t steal a man’s crawfish in Louisiana. At one point in time, it was even supposedly illegal for ladies to wear patent leather shoes in Cleveland, most likely because dudes would be able to see up their skirts (because ladies don’t wear pants). 

At the prompting of the patent leather, we decided to look into Ohio and Northern Kentucky laws to see if there was anything else totally absurd (possibly sexist) left in writing in the Ohio Revised Code/Cincinnati Municipal Code/other codes. And while there was nothing too bizarre — logically, you can’t walk around in a mask, even a luchador one, in case you rob a bank or stab somebody — but some of the laws’ requirements and wording are hilarious, incredibly obvious and/or idiotic. 

We’ve collected some of our favorites to keep you up-to-date on what you can and cannot do in areas around town. Be warned: You have to keep a lot of your bodily fluids to yourself. 

— Maija Zummo

Keep Cincinnati (Municipal Code) Weird

Other than scrupulous CityBeat staffers, we’re guessing reading the Cincinnati Municipal Code isn’t a pastime for many Cincinnatians, nor is it something most of us even think about on a semi-regular basis. The behemoth document is wrought with minutia and, with the exceptions we’ve found here, it’s kind of a boring read. Of course, it has its purpose. 

“I did have someone call and ask me a couple of weeks ago whether or not fortune telling was permitted within the city,” says City Solicitor John Curp, the highest-ranking lawyer for the Cincinnati Law Department.  

(By the way, Curp didn’t have a sure answer — “There’s no express prohibition, except I would imagine acts of fraud are prohibited, so I reserve judgment on whether or not that fraud section would apply to fortune telling.”) 

Implementing an ordinance, he explains, is usually goaded by a request from a council member who’s garnered enough City Council support for the Law Department to draft an ordinance, which requires a fairly extensive review and approval process. From there, it gets forwarded to council for debate and a vote. 

As for the inclusions you’ll find here (like concerns expressed over hypnotism, goat heads, gongs, etc.), Curp guesses any goofy inclusions probably exist because a specific event, probably long ago, prompted council to add particular wording requests (so phonographs in cars were a thing?). 

Curp, who’s been city solicitor since 2008, consulted with Chief Prosecutor Charlie Rubenstein, whose memory dates back 33 years, and Rubenstein couldn’t recall any instances in which the city enforced hypnotism violations, or found someone guilty for selling an improperly severed goat carcass. 

Still, it’s likely these little antiquities will remain on the books for some time; if they’re not being enforced, they don’t seem to be doing much harm. According to Curp, the Law Department just doesn’t have the time or staff to proactively review the code; changes are typically only considered when a problem or complaint arises. 

If you find yourself really perturbed by something you read here, citizens do have the power of initiative to place a repeal measure on the ballot, or City Council could repeal an ordinance with a five-vote majority. 

We’re OK with a couple of quirks, though. It made our job pretty fun. 

— Hannah McCartney


CINCINNATI SAYS NO

From the online version of the City of Cincinnati Municipal Code

DO NOT HUFF TOXIC GLUE TO BECOME “ELATED”

Sec. 601-19. - Sale or Use of Toxic Glue to Produce a State of Intoxication or Other Abnormal Condition: No person shall inhale, drink, eat or otherwise introduce into such person’s respiratory or circulatory system any toxic glue with the intent of becoming intoxicated, elated, paralyzed, irrational or in any manner changing, distorting or disturbing the eyesight, thinking process, judgment, balance or coordination of such person. For the purpose of this section, any such condition so induced shall be deemed to be an intoxicated condition.

SPIT AT HOME
Sec. 601-17. - Spitting in a Public Place:
No person shall spit upon any sidewalk, street, highway, alley, the floor of any bus used for public transportation, theatre, railway or public transportation depot or platform or the floor of any school house, church or public building of any kind.

MUST USE LARGE LETTERING ON A “HORSEMEAT SERVED HERE” SIGN
Sec. 603-63. - Serving Cooked or Prepared Horsemeat; Sign Required: The owner or manager of any restaurant or other food-handling establishment serving cooked or prepared horsemeat for consumption on the premises shall cause at least one sign to be prominently displayed in each room where such foods are served, containing the words in letters not less than four inches high: “HORSEMEAT SERVED HERE.” If menu cards are used, any food containing horsemeat shall be so designated on the menu.

RIDING ON HANDLEBARS: TOO EXTREME
Sec. 505-12. - Passengers on Motorcycles and Bicycles: No person operating a bicycle or motorcycle shall ride other than upon the permanent and regular seat attached thereto, nor carry any other person upon such bicycle or motorcycle other than upon a firmly attached and regular seat thereon, nor shall any person ride upon a bicycle or motorcycle other than as above authorized.

DO NOT SELL A DEAD GOAT WHILE IT STILL HAS ITS HEAD ON

Sec.

603-53. - Selling Sheep and Goats: No person shall sell or offer for sale in the city any sheep, lamb, goat or kid that has been slaughtered, until the head, feet, pelt and plucks thereof shall have been completely severed therefrom.

MASSAGE LIQUOR (OR BOOKSTORE) = NO
Sec. 897-21. - Other Unlawful Activities; General Penalty: It shall be unlawful: For any person, association, firm, or a corporation to conduct or operate a massage establishment on the same premises whereon is also conducted the business of a liquor establishment, photography studio, model studio, art studio, telephone answering service, motion picture theater or bookstore.

STOP KILLING CHICKENS IN FRONT OF PEOPLE
Sec. 603-55. - Killing Poultry in Public Places: No person shall kill or dress any poultry in any of the market houses, market spaces, streets, avenues or public places of the city.

DO NOT POSSESS A POLAR BEAR WITH THE INTENT TO SELL

Sec. 701-41. - Endangered Species, Possession and Sale Of: No person shall possess with intent to sell, sell or offer for sale, or buy or attempt to buy within the city any of the following animals, alive or dead, or any part or product thereof: all wild cats of the family Felidae, polar bear (Thalarctos martimus), red wolf (Canis niger), vicuna (Vicugna vicugna), or alligator, caiman or crocodile of the order of Crocodylia, gray or timber wolf (Canis Lupus), sea otter (Enhydra lutris), Pacific Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys Olivacea), Atlantic Green Turtle (Chelonia Mydas), Mexican Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys Kempi).

KEEP YOUR PHONOGRAPH AT A REASONABLE VOLUME
Sec. 909-5. - Excessive Sound from a Motor Vehicle: No person being the owner or person in possession of a motor vehicle with any radio, phonograph, television, tape player, loud speaker or any other instrument, machine or device shall cause or permit any noise to emanate from the motor vehicle in such a manner and to be of such intensity, volume and duration to create unreasonable noise or loud sound which causes inconvenience and annoyance to persons of ordinary sensibilities.

CLEFT CHINS OK, CLEFT BUTTS NOT
Sec. 899-1-N1. - Nudity or a State of Nudity: “Nudity” or a “State of Nudity” shall mean: (a) The appearance of the cleft of the buttocks, anus, male genitals, female genitals, or areola of the female breast; or (b) A state of dress which fails to opaquely cover the cleft of the buttocks, anus, male genitals, female genitals, or areola of the female breast. 

BIRDS ARE CUTER THAN RATS
Sec. 604-17. - Unapproved Bird, Fowl or Animal
Feeding:
No person who has put outdoors, or allowed to be put outdoors, any food for the purpose of nourishing birds, fowl or animals shall allow such food to be available to rats by leaving the food unattended by some person unless such food shall be in an above ground-level birdfeed container.

MUST BE THIS TALL TO BE A STRIPPER
Sec. 899-33. - Regulations Pertaining to Sexually Oriented Businesses Featuring Performances: A person shall not knowingly appear in a state of semi-nudity except upon a stage elevated at least (eighteen) 18 inches above floor level. All parts of the stage, or a clearly designated area thereof within which the person appears in a state of semi-nudity or performs, shall be a distance of at least three (3) feet from all parts of a clearly designated area in which patrons may be present. The stage or designated area thereof shall be separated from the area in which patrons may be located by a barrier or railing the top of which is at least three (3) feet above floor level. No person appearing in a state of semi-nudity or engaging in such live performances or patron may knowingly extend any part of his or her body over or beyond the barrier or railing.

NO TO SELLING STOLEN STREET DIRT
Sec. 721-59. - Taking Material from Streets: No person shall dig up or cause to be dug up, or in any manner destroy or injure any street, water course or creek, or take or carry away from any such street, water course or creek, any stone, rock, dirt or other material therein, or sell any such stone, rock, dirt or other material unlawfully taken therefrom.

YES TO SELLING OLD TIN CANS TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER
Sec. 729-61. - Sale of Refuse: The city manager is authorized to sell old paper, tin cans and other refuse not needed for as municipal purpose to the highest bidder, according to law, upon terms and specifications fixed before advertisement.

HYPNOTISM: NOT COOL

Sec. 911-11. – Hypnotism: No person shall give a public exhibition or illustration of the effects of hypnotism or mesmerism upon any human subject. The beginning of any of the acts prohibited shall be considered a violation of this Section. Whoever violates this section is guilty of giving a public exhibition or illustration of mesmerism, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree.

PRANK CALLS: ALSO NOT COOL

Sec. 908-15. - Telephone Harassment: No person shall knowingly make or cause to be made a telephone call, or knowingly permit a telephone call to be made from a telephone under his control, to another, if the caller does any of the following: Fails to identify himself to the recipient of the telephone call and makes the telephone call with purpose to harass, abuse, or annoy any person at the premises to which the telephone call is made, whether or not conversation takes place during the telephone call. 

TAKE A TREE, LEAVE A TREE

Sec. 743-17.-Compensatory Payments: 

No person shall remove any public tree without replacing such tree with a tree of equivalent dollar value in the vicinity of the removed tree.

NO POKER AT CITY HALL

Sec. 704-5. - Games of Chance and Indecent
Conduct Prohibited:
No person or persons shall play at any game of chance or do any obscene or indecent act whatever within or about the city hall building.


NEWPORT NO NOS:

From the Newport Code of Ordinances

NO EXPOSING THE PORTION OF THE BREAST BELOW THE HORIZONTAL LINE ACROSS THE TOP OF THE AREOLA (BUT CLEAVAGE IS COOL)
130.23. - Nudity In Public Place Prohibited: It is unlawful for a person to appear in any public place in a manner or attire as to expose to view any portion of the pubic area, anus, vulva or genitals, or any simulation thereof, or for any female to appear in such manner or attire as to expose to view the portion of the breast below a horizontal line across the top of the areola at its highest point or simulation thereof. This definition shall include the entire lower portion of the human female breast, but shall not include any portion of the cleavage of the human female breast exhibited by a dress, blouse, shirt, leotard, bathing suit or other wearing apparel provided the areola is not exposed in whole or in part.

PEOPLE REALLY HAVE AN ISSUE WITH SPITTING
131.24. - Spitting on Sidewalks: It shall be unlawful to spit on sidewalks.

NO BESTIALITY OR GAYNESS IN PUBLIC, PLEASE
130.02. - Acts Prohibited: All forms of obscenity, sexual misconduct and indecent exposure in public places are prohibited in the City. SEXUAL MISCONDUCT:  Acts of masturbation, homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality, sexual intercourse or deviant sexual intercourse; or physical contacts with the genitals, flagellation or excretion for the purpose of sexual stimulation or gratification. 

TROLL TOLL
131.23. - Climbing Upon or Jumping Off Bridges Prohibited: (A) It is unlawful for any person to jump off of any bridge located within the City. (B) It is unlawful for any person to climb under, on or around the superstructure of any bridge located within the City. (C) It is unlawful to sit upon the superstructure of any bridge located within the City.


COVINGTON STRONGLY DISCOURAGES:

From the City of Covington Code of Ordinances

NO GONG!

135.07. - Use of Siren or Gong: No person, except members of the Police Department, Fire Department, or ambulance services, shall ring, use, or otherwise sound any gong, siren, whistle, or any other device for making similar noise.

FIVE POOPS PER HOUSE

92.11. - Animals and Animal Excrement: No person shall allow excessive animal excrement to accumulate on his or her premises, including his or her yard. For purposes of this section, EXCESSIVE shall mean more than five separate deposits or droppings of animal excrement.

PLEASE DON’T THROW MISSILES
131.01. - Throwing Stones or Missiles: No person shall throw any stone, snowball, or any other missile on or at any vehicle, building, tree, or other public or private property, or on or at any person.


MILFORD, MAN:

From the Codified Ordinances of Milford, Ohio

THERE’S NO CHEATING IN BINGO

 517.05. - Cheating: No person, with purpose to defraud or knowing that the person is facilitating a fraud, shall engage in conduct designed to corrupt the outcome of any of the following: (1) The subject of a bet; (2) A contest of knowledge, skill, or endurance that is not an athletic or sporting event; (3) A scheme or game of chance; (4) Bingo.


MADEIRA SAYS “HELL NO”:

From the Madeira, Ohio City Charter and Municipal Code

BEDS ARE FOR SLEEPING, NOT FOR SMOKING
91.50. - Smoking in Bed Prohibited; Discarding Cigarettes: No person shall smoke, or ignite a lighter or match, while sitting or lying upon
any bed. 

NO DANCING ON A SUNDAY (WHAT IS THIS? ‘FOOTLOOSE’?)
112.02. - License Fee to Hold Public Dance: No person shall hold any public dance, provide facilities for dancing, or permit patrons to dance, in connection with any public restaurant, any nightclub, or other place of public entertainment within the limits of the city, until the premises in which the public dance or the facilities for dancing are provided have been duly licensed for such purpose. The license shall be issued by the city manager, and the license so issued shall provide that no dance shall be given nor shall any dancing be permitted on the premises so licensed between the hours of 2:30 a.m. on Sunday and 12:01 a.m. on Monday. 

DO THEY STILL MAKE PINBALL MACHINES?

110.08. - Minors Prohibited: No exhibitor of one or more pinball machines shall permit the same to be played or used by a person under 18 years of age.

110.07. - Distance from School Grounds: No person shall maintain or exhibit a pinball machine on any premises situated less than 500 feet from the building and grounds of any elementary school or high school, the 500 feet to be measured along the line of the nearest curb.

MADEIRA WILL SUE YOU FOR GETTING THE STREET DIRTY

92.28. - Tracking Mud, Dirt, or Other Substances on Streets: (A) No person shall operate on any street, alley, or other public place a vehicle with mud; dirt, sticky substances, litter, or foreign matter on its wheels or other parts if such operation results in the depositing or tracking of the mud, dirt, substances, litter, or foreign matter on any street, alley, or other public place. The cost of cleaning shall be collected by civil suit. 


 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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