Gary is an author, trial lawyer, Mequon-area resident and town of Cedarburg supervisor. He is a columnist for the News Graphic and writes for several Wisconsin area magazines and is a national columnist with The American Thinker and PJ Media. He lives with his wife, Lisa, and has three sons ages 18 to 28. Gary won Ozaukee County in his bid for the Wisconsin Assembly's 60th District in 2011, but came up just 58 votes short.
The Government Printing Office produces an estimated 2 billion pages of stuff which it disseminates throughout the halls of Congress each year. Never mind the millions of trees, the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, or the fact that Congress exempts itself from virtually all of the legislation it passes, any legislative body which measures success by the metric ton must inevitably collapse under its own weight.
The federal tax code is a bloated 17,000 pages calling for the use of over 700 different forms. The federal criminal code is almost as bad. Thomas Jefferson wrote that the U.S. Constitution gave Congress the power to criminally punish “treason, counterfeiting, piracies, felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations, and no other crimes whatsoever.” Yet the federal criminal code today spans some 1,400 pages, and that’s just the “pocket edition.”
The Federal Registry, which records all of the regulations the federal government imposes on individuals and businesses (all of which carry the force of law), now exceeds 75,000 pages. It has never been read cover to cover by any human being, as it would take nearly two years to do so, reading eight hours a day. Combined, U.S. laws could not be bench-pressed by the entire Packer’s defensive line. Just trying to comply with federal regulations alone costs U.S. businesses an estimated $500 to $600 billion per year – nearly 20% of the entire U.S. federal budget. And we haven’t even gotten to state and local laws and regulations.
To add insult to injury, many of these laws are just plain silly, stupid, or downright unbelievable. In the 1960’s, I remember traveling with my family to Illinois to buy margarine, because it was illegal in Wisconsin.
An even earlier Wisconsin law provided that whenever two trains met at an intersection of railroad tracks, “neither shall proceed until the other had passed.”
It used to be illegal to play checkers in public, to worry a squirrel, or to not have screens on all of your windows from May 1 to October 1.
A Milwaukee ordinance once stated that if a person was thought to be “offensive-looking”, it was illegal for that person to be in public during daylight hours. Alright, so maybe that one isn’t so dumb.
The City of Sun Prairie was decades ahead of the Department of Homeland Security, as it once declared illegal the manufacture of nuclear weapons within city limits.
Wauwatosa’s laws required a person who didn’t return library books on time to turn in his or her library card until the books were returned.
Some of these laws are old. Surely things have gotten better, right? Wrong. Today, if you are a Wisconsin parent of a child engaged in organized, competitive sports – which is most of us – chances are you are an unconvicted felon. Loving parents must produce copies of young athletes’ birth certificates for sports tournaments, leagues, and teams, in order to prove their children’s age. The only problem is, all of these parents are committing a felony.
Wisconsin state law currently makes it Class I felony for anybody to make a photocopy of a birth certificate. My wife was registrar for the Ozaukee Youth Hockey Association, and out of over 1,200 parents who had to provide birth certificates for the association over the years, 100% of them committed felonies by providing a copy. She received not one original birth certificate – ever. I have asked Senator Glenn Grothman and Rep. Mark Gottlieb to sponsor a bill amending this stupid statute – which they have - but I am told progress is slow and chances of its passage small, because local government associations and lobbyists are protecting their $20 per certified copy revenue source.
Wisconsin isn’t alone in the dumb law department. Texas makes it illegal for somebody to sell his own eye for profit. How do you know if you make a profit when you sell an eye? It was also illegal at one time to take more than three sips of beer while standing. Today we can’t show even one sip of beer during a beer commercial.
The New Orleans fire code still prohibits cursing a fireman while Tennessee’s Constitution currently says you can’t hold public office if you are an atheist or if you fight a duel. Hmmm. I actually think duels in state legislatures and Congress might be a good idea - sort of a term limits thing.
“Blue laws” still exist today to enforce the observance of Sunday as a day of worship or rest, and a restriction on Sunday shopping. Most have been repealed, declared unconstitutional or are simply unenforced, although prohibitions on the sale of alcoholic beverages or engaging in commerce on a Sunday are still enforced in many states. Until 1985, many counties of Texas prohibited selling house wares such as pots, pans, and washing machines on Sunday.
Even today, Wisconsin law prohibits a car dealership from being open on Sunday. Putting aside for a moment the fact that the “Sabbath” referred to in the First Commandment is actually referring to Saturday – the “seventh day”, common sense tells you that if you buy a car, you must have money, and to have money, you must have a job, which requires you to actually work five or six days a week.
I’ve been in the check-out line in Cedarburg’s Piggly Wiggly at 9:15 p.m. on more than one occasion with a couple bottles of my favorite California wine, only to be told they couldn’t sell them to me. I had my I.D. and am reminded daily by my mirror that I look over the age of 21. So why wouldn’t they let me buy the wine?
The culprit is Wisconsin Statute §125.68(4)(b), which states that a Class A” license holder (a retail seller of liquor like Piggly Wiggly), cannot sell wine after 9:00 p.m. The liquor and tavern lobby in Wisconsin wants me to drive to a smoke-filled bar and have an over-priced drink with a bunch of women I don’t know rather than having a glass of wine at home with my wife. Somehow, I don’t think “Honey, it’s the law” would cut it here.
Some states still have “dry” counties where the sale of alcohol is prohibited altogether. Personal consumption is allowed – so many “tip-up” bars in dry counties like Texas allow you to bring your own alcohol to the bar. Of Texas’ 254 counties, 46 are completely dry, 169 are partially dry or "moist” and 39 are entirely wet.
Believe it or not, there is even a dry municipality in Wisconsin - the Village of Ephraim in Door County. Ephraim is the only municipality in Wisconsin that has chosen to go “dry” - alcohol is not allowed to be sold in the Village. A statement from the Village's website proudly proclaims: We're the only community in all of Wisconsin that is dry. There have been two referendums to ask the citizens if they wanted liquor allowed to be sold within the Village-in 1934 and in 1992-59% voted no in 1934, 74% voted no in 1992.
Ephraim remains dry. Wisconsin prevents you from buying alcohol and forces you to go to the bar, and Texas forces you to buy the alcohol and bring it to the bar. Go figure. And I will occasionally still walk to the Piggly Wiggly check-out counter with a bottle of wine after 9:00 p.m. in the hope that somebody in Madison has come to their senses.