Those tasked with drafting our laws and ordinances sometimes tend to get a bit ahead of themselves. In their zeal to protect us from ourselves, they sometimes tend to propose or enact legislation that would insult the intelligence of the average toddler. Why bother with public health campaigns to educate the citizenry about the dangers of smoking and overeating when we can just ramp up taxes until cigarettes are prohibitively expensive and ban all sodas over a certain size?
Well, because people will always make lousy decisions. And criminalizing lousy decisions doesn’t really serve any purpose other than creating more criminals, which may seem like a common-sense conclusion, unless you’re a lawmaker of a certain stripe. Here’s our latest roundup of actual legislation, crafted of, by, and for those with absolutely no common sense.
10. Calorie Limits On School Lunches
Fighting obesity, especially in children, is at the root of many a boneheaded piece of legislation. The only item on this list to affect the entire US comes courtesy of the US Department of Agriculture, which decided in 2012 that children were just eating far too much across the board and completely rewrote its nutritional guidelines for school meals.
On the surface, the changes seem pretty reasonable: more vegetables, phasing out things like chocolate milk, and an effort to reduce trans fats. But dig a little deeper, and remember that these are growing children we’re talking about here: no portions of juice larger than four ounces; two ounces of protein is sufficient for an entree; other portions must be no more than 200 calories; and for elementary students, the entire meal cannot exceed 650 calories. We’re no dietitians, but typing that sentence made us hungry.
In addition, school cafeterias are directed to throw away extra food. If you can point out one way this regulation does one iota to cut down on childhood obesity, you’re more observant than we are. Besides, last time we looked, it was giant sodas and lunch-period runs to McDonald’s that were supposedly causing all the problems, not school lunches.
9. Random Drug Tests For High Schoolers
High schools have become much more restrictive in recent times; understandable, considering that they seem to have become much more dangerous (though the data doesn’t necessarily agree). One New Jersey school district decided that drug use was a pretty serious problem in its schools. Serious enough that all students should be subjected to random drug and alcohol testing, which you may recognize as a technique that isn’t even employed in prisons.
Aside from the fact that random drug testing isn’t proven to deter drug use, there’s the issue of intrusiveness—and not just from the student’s point of view. The measure assumes irresponsibility and neglect on the part of the parents—all of the parents—of the school district and would also set a precedent for any other school district that sees fit to preemptively treat its students like criminals.
8. Legislating The Correct Use Of Bowling Shoes
The Albany City Council spent much of 2012 and 2013 embroiled in scandal; one of their councilmen, Vito Lopez, was forced to resign amid sexual harassment and corruption charges, with his replacement not faring much better. During all of this, they did manage to get one monumentally important piece of legislation off the ground: a law prohibiting people from wearing bowling shoes outdoors.
Bowling shoes, you see, are designed to slide. Since there are now laws banning smoking indoors, bowling alley patrons must go outside to smoke; if it rains, their bowling shoes may become wet, making them extra slippery, increasing the risk that—okay, no. It is glaringly apparent to us, you, and everybody involved that this is nothing that a simple sign by the door wouldn’t fix immediately.
One state senator claims that lawsuits from incidents involving rain-slicked bowling shoes are driving up insurance costs for bowling alleys; we claim that this is highly suspect. Have you seen those yellow “WET FLOOR” signs they have in every restaurant? Did you know that there are no laws requiring them? That’s because warning patrons of the potential danger is enough to head off lawsuits. You probably see what we’re getting at here.
7. Visiting Elderly Parents Is Mandatory In China
Since 1979, most Chinese citizens have only been allowed to have one child under the law. This, combined with decades of economic reforms and a growing elderly population, has led to a curious phenomenon in China: lots of senior citizens whose busy (only) children don’t have time for them. The solution, of course, must be more legislation.
A national law introduced in 2013 makes it illegal for children of those 60 and older, who also live alone, to neglect the “spiritual needs” of their elders. The law mandates frequent visits (without specifying how frequent) and allows seniors to apply for mediation—or even to sue—if they feel their needs aren’t being met. There are also no standards (yet) for punishment if one is breaking the law.
The realities of the Chinese economy will clash with this law in a hurry. For example, many (as many as 400 million) Chinese are migrant workers, finding employment in the big cities and leaving their aging parents in the poor, rural areas they came from. Such workers find frequent, distant travel highly inconvenient or impossible. A recent Internet poll among the Chinese populace was split; about half supported the measure, but a quarter of them doubted its practicality. An additional 17 percent opposed the law “because caring for the elderly was a question of ethics and not something that should be governed by legislation,” which we’re surprised was an option on the poll.
6. Banning Bottle-Feeding Of Babies
Venezuelan politician Odalis Monzon wants to “increase the love [between mother and child] because this has been lost as a result of these transnational companies selling formula.” Sounds like a pretty radical statement about the reach of transnational corporations. Her proposed solution? Ban bottle-feeding completely.
Fortunately, exceptions would be provided when the mother is not present or is unable to produce the required amount of breast milk, and the law is vague on the punishment for using formula. But there are far too many variables for any such legislation to account for (what if the child simply stops breast-feeding?). And then there’s the notion that any government telling women when and how to use their breasts is objectively ridiculous.
“Every baby has the right to breast-feeding,” says Monzon, who is not a medical expert, and did not comment on the idea that every parent has the right to government non-interference with their normal, harmless methods of child-rearing.
5. Banning Saggy Pants
In July of 2013, the city of Wildwood, New Jersey, enacted a dress code. Responding to general “complaints” from unnamed “visitors,” the city council unanimously passed a bill criminalizing the sagging of pants, punishable by up to $200 in fines and 40 hours of community service.
“There’s a line that gets crossed between being a fashion statement and being obnoxious,” City Commissioner Pete Byron says. “Families can feel threatened.” It’s unclear what threat is implied by semi-exposed boxer shorts, though the popular line is that the trend originated in prisons (which is unclear).
Similar laws are on the books or being proposed in other cities, including Ocean City, Maryland, where Councilman Brent Ashley is pushing an anti-sagging ordinance. He claims, “If you dress like a thug and think like a thug, chances are you’re going to act like a thug.”
4. Making Recycling, Composting Mandatory
We can all get behind recycling and composting in general practice, even though it’s open for debate just how much long-term good they do the environment. It can be safely argued that neither practice holds the key to long-term environmental sustainability—no one thing does. It could also be argued that mandating either practice by law would be ludicrous, but that hasn’t stopped several US cities from doing so.
Many cities from Philadelphia to Seattle have mandatory recycling laws, but none of those mandated recycling of organics (composting), although some have taken a serious look at it. The case for mandatory composting (organics being bio-degradable, of course) is even more suspect, as “keeping waste out of the landfills” seems to be a main focus of these types of ordinances.
In 2009, San Francisco became the first city in the world to mandate recycling and composting under the law. Residents were given a year to adjust and then began receiving fines ranging from $100 to $1,000 for infractions.
3. Banning Scantily Clad Mannequins
While most of the “offenses” on this list are fairly innocuous, nobody is disputing the seriousness of rape as a crime. And while any legislation that would reduce instances of sexual assault would be most welcome, one resolution in the Indian city of Mumbai is severely misguided.
The law would—stay with us here—ban shopkeepers from dressing their display mannequins provocatively. No lingerie, no swimsuits. If you’re not seeing the connection between scantily clad mannequins and rape, then you may just be a reasonable person who understands that this legislation shows a dangerous lack of understanding of the crime it’s intended to prevent.
Most people understand that rape is a crime of violence, one that has little to do with sex, but at its core it’s about asserting dominance and power. Even if it could be successfully argued (it cannot) that sexual images provoke men to rape, as one sensible trade association president pointed out, “We are living in the 21st century where these kinds of things, all porn, the movies, the pictures, all these things are available on websites, available on mobiles. [A] mannequin hardly makes any difference to the people.” The Mumbai City Council nevertheless passed the resolution—in a landslide—in May 2013.
2. Banning Glass Pints After 9:00 PM
In the Scottish Highlands, glass alcohol containers of any kind are outlawed after 9:00 PM in nightclubs. Kit Fraser, owner of the club Hootenanny, says, “It is as if we cannot trust the adult of the species with glass. We give plastic to children, and it should stop there.” But it will not—soon, this rule could extend even beyond nightclubs to anywhere in the Highlands.
It’s easy to see why club owners and restaurateurs believe this could “send the wrong message.” The implication that an entire region of a country cannot be trusted with alcohol and glass notwithstanding, Scottish lawmakers seem to have also forgotten—or discounted—the fact that the region’s whiskey is exalted throughout the world and that asking people to drink it out of plastic could be seen as an insult.
As of this writing, the measure is still up for vote; if approved, it will be enacted by the end of 2013. The Highland Licensing Board will be allowing the public to weigh in on this one though, so it could be in trouble.
1. Appointing Child-Raising Police
And finally, another Scottish bill, which is currently sitting in Parliament, makes the previous entry look level-headed. The redundantly named Children and Young People Bill would serve a similarly redundant purpose—it would appoint secondary parents to children who already have perfectly good ones.
The “named person” (as opposed to a nameless person, we suppose) would bear the responsibility to “promote, support or safeguard the well-being of the child or young person,” which you may recognize as duties that are traditionally performed by parents. The “named person” would have to be a doctor, teacher, or social worker, which seems to mitigate the jaw-droppingly invasive nature of such a proposal at first glance.
But Christopher Booker of the Daily Telegraph pointed out the faultiness of this notion eloquently: “However admirable, in theory, the thought of appointing a ‘guardian’ to watch over every child might seem, experience suggests that, in practice, this may exacerbate those weaknesses in our existing ‘child protection’ system, which make a mockery of the noble aims it was set up to promote.”
The bill may become the first law in the world to extend parental rights, for absolutely no reason, to those who are not parents, and it seems to be the specific piece of legislation for which the term “nanny state” was invented.