Don’t eat that frog: Wacky laws pose challenge for states cleaning up the books

It is illegal in California to eat a frog that dies in a frog-eating competition. In Arkansas, mispronouncing the state's name is formally "discouraged."

And don't even think about killing a dog using a compression chamber in Michigan -- or for that matter, using a firearm to fish in Wyoming.

With 50 state legislatures and thousands of municipalities year-after-year churning out laws and ordinances, it's no wonder some very strange ones remain on the books. But some fastidious public servants are making it their business to clean up those books and purge unnecessary and wacky laws from the code.

In Texas, for instance, librarians at the Legislative Reference Library of Texas have teamed up with lawmakers to identify and review older -- and questionable -- laws.

"Over the years, we have often received requests for verification of certain unique or interesting older Texas laws, with the typical question being: 'Is this really a law?'" Becky Johnson, a reference librarian, told "Many older laws often seem quaint or unusual when looking back in time, but are often a response to a pragmatic issue of a specific period of time."

Since laws are created by legislative action, it also falls to lawmakers to fix or remove them. For instance, each legislative session, Texas lawmakers pass a "clean-up" bill that allows them wide latitude to make code corrections -- and even strip antiquated laws from the books, Johnson said.

A major effort in 1973 to revise Texas code also abolished many of the state's more unusual laws.

One of the gems wiped from the books was a 1925 law that reads: "Whoever without the consent of the owner shall take up, use of milk any cow, not his own, shall be fined not exceeding ten dollars." The law was on the books from 1866 until its revision in 1973, when it was replaced by another section that covered theft.

Another law made it illegal to "publish another as a coward" using "opprobrious" language. The fine was higher if the crime was committed during a duel.

It also was illegal in Texas for a barbershop or beauty parlor to permit someone to sleep in the shop. Librarians were unsure of when it was removed, but it was on the books as late as 1979, Johnson said.

Texas is not the only state looking to get its books in order. In 2014, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton led an effort that dumped more than 1,000 unnecessary -- and outright silly -- laws from the books.

The culling means that in Minnesota it no longer is a crime to carry fruit in an improperly sized container, and it's now legal to drive a car in neutral should anyone wish to, The Pioneer Press reported.

Florida lawmakers are in the process of attempting a repeal of an 1868 law that makes it illegal for an unmarried man and woman to live together. Although the law no longer is enforced, it carries a punishment of 60 days in jail.

Marshall Trimble, the official state historian of Arizona, points out that even the craziest laws often are born out of necessity.

Trimble points to a state law that prohibited hunting camel. Why? He explained that in 1857, the Army was mapping a road across the state. To do so, they needed a beast of burden that could last without water. So they imported camels, and the law was passed soon after to protect them.

Another law still in place in Prescott makes it illegal to ride a horse up the stairs in the county court house. Again, Trimble explains, context is key. Right across from the court house was a line of saloons known as "whiskey row." "

"Cowboys would drink in every one and then start riding their horses indoors," Trimble said.

Urban myths also have their place in America's legal landscape.

"Someone keeps swearing to me that in Arizona it's illegal to have sex with a rodeo clown in an elevator on Tuesdays," Trimble said. "It's a tall tale of course, but they're told as truth."