Monday, August 11, 2014
Underhill recently released a book, The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance. The book is a collection of silly, weird, and humorous laws, with commentary by Underhill. The title comes from an ordinance adopted by the board of commissioners of Skamania County, Washington that made it illegal to slay Bigfoot. Apparently, the threat was serious because the county commissioners designated it as an emergency ordinance so it could become immediately effective.
Both Underhill’s selection of laws and his commentary are a little uneven. Some of the laws he features are not that interesting (or funny). And Underhill’s commentary on the laws, while often quite funny, sometimes falls flat. I also wish Underhill would have provided more legislative history. He sometimes does, but not always, and it would be interesting to know what motivated some of these strange laws. But the book contains some real gems, and that alone makes it worth reading.
Some of the laws are funny because of their clear unconstitutionality. In 2011, for example, the Gould, Arkansas city council passed a law that (1) requires city council approval for the mayor or council members to participate in a meeting of any organization; (2) bans the Gould Citizens Advisory Council from doing business in the city; and (3) requires city council approval for any new organization in the city.
Some of them are just weird. A California law, for example, provides that
It is unlawful for any person to immerse or soak the carcass of any slaughtered rabbit in water for a period longer than necessary to eliminate the natural animal heat in the carcass and in no event for a period longer than 2 ½ hours.
Many of them make you wonder whether the legislative body didn’t have more important things to do. One Arkansas law, for instance, specifies how to pronounce Arkansas and another specifies the possessive form of Arkansas. (In case you were wondering, it’s pronounced “By Texas” and the possessive form is “Our’n.”) A Massachusetts statute that I’m sure my wife the law librarian will love makes it illegal to disturb people in a public library by making noise.
But my favorite law from the Underhill book confirms my view of tax law and tax lawyers. According to an Australian law, the tax commissioner may
- Treat a particular event that actually happened as not having happened;
- Treat a particular event that did not actually happen as having happened and, if appropriate, treat the event as having happened at a particular time and having involved particular action by a particular entity; or
- Treat a particular event that actually happened as having happened at a time different from the time it actually happened, or having involved particular action by a particular entity (whether or not the event actually involved any action by that entity).
The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance is an easy read and each law is in a separate chapter, so it’s easy to pick and choose. It’s worth a look.