Usually, a new year means new laws, federally, state-wide, and locally. The more you look back over time, the more these laws meant to their society’s and the more instrumental these laws were in developing the philosophy and personality of our various governments. However today, it seems that our society has grown more than the infrastructure to support and enforce these laws, and although very well meaning, they have far less teeth in them than in the past. For example, distracted driving: Put an inattentive person behind the wheel of, of a car, and what essentially becomes a two-ton/4,000-pound weapon, and the results are often disastrous. More than 38,000 people die every year in crashes on U.S. roadways. An additional 4.4 million are injured seriously enough to require medical attention. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, road crashes were the leading cause of death in the U.S. for people aged 1-54. While this proves there is a need for laws against this growing carelessness, enforcement of these laws is problematic and rarely effective. None-the-less, new laws are in fact legal mandates, not suggestions, to help grow, protect, and support our free society and they are essential for a country’s well-being.
Today I hope to discuss some strange old obscure laws, some new laws, and the laws that shaped our country.
First off, let’s start with the fun old obscure laws. For example, do you know it’s illegal in many states to drive a car on Sunday? This is absolutely true, even today, check it out. This stems from the advent of cars, they were loud, they often backfired, and they were not easy to maneuver. Yet most families at that time went to church in a carriage or buggy pulled by their reliable horses. Well, difficult to maneuver, loud, and backfiring cars don’t mix too well with horses on narrow pathways, streets, and roads and the combination was problematic-so many states outlawed driving on these days of worship, to prevent these unavoidable accidents, and many of these laws were not “officially” repealed and remain on the books today.
Here is a list of the top twenty crazy laws still on the books:
1. A New Orleans City Code states you cannot use “obscene or opprobrious” language toward or with reference to any member of the city fire department while in the actual performance of his duty.
2. Louisiana passed a law that made the "sport" of pro wrestling illegal within state lines under a law banning boxing and wrestling events that are "sham or fake contests or exhibitions." Enacted in 1974, the law was amended to exempt pro wrestling from the prohibition in 2007.
3. A 1961 Gainesville, Ga, ordinance makes it illegal to consume fried chicken any way other than by hand – you shall not use utensils. This law was passed to promote Gainesville as a leader in its promotion of fried chicken.
4. Carmel, California has made it illegal to wear shoes with heels more than 2 inches high or with less than a one-square-inch base. The prohibition on pumps was enacted in an effort to limit the city's liability for trip and fall accidents by people traversing Carmel's jagged streets in stilettos. It is not often enforced -- and you can get a free high heel permit at City Hall.
5. In Alabama, it's a criminal offense to engage in a whole host of activities on Sunday, including playing cards, shooting, hunting, gaming, and racing. These offenses carry a fine of $10 to $100. Worse, you could be imprisoned or sentenced to hard labor for no more than three months.
6. Beacon, N.Y. has banned pinball games within city limits. Along with Beacon, a number of big cities outlawed the game for many years, with officials claiming that pinball was tied to the Mafia and robbing our youth of their, innocence, time and, money. This anti-pinball law is not only still on the books, but is also being enforced. In 2010, the city forced a retro arcade museum to shut its doors, citing the pinball prohibition and threatening a $1,000-a-day fine
7. North Dakota, bars and restaurants can serve suds and pretzels, but not at the same time, according to a bizarre state law. The belief is this law exists because people would drink too much if eating pretzels.
8. In Georgia, you can't sell a child to the circus, age 12 or under. The list of vocations for which parents may not sell or rent out their minor children ages 12 and younger includes gymnast, contortionist, circus rider and acrobat, as well as clown and wire walker. Why these particular professions have been identified as particularly unsuitable for young kids is not clear. Perhaps in the old days, it was a common way to get rid of some of your unwanted children. The consequences are a misdemeanor conviction and up to a year in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine
9. In Connecticut, a pickle cannot be legally called a pickle unless it bounces.
10. In Kansas, a poorly worded law was passed that if two trains should meet on the same track, neither shall proceed until the other has passed.
11. In Kentucky, you may not dye a duckling blue, and offer it for sale, unless more than 6 are for sale at once.
12. In Michigan it is illegal for a woman to cut her own hair without her husbands’ permission.
13. In Minnesota, it is illegal for one to cross state lines with a duck atop their head.
14. In Nebraska it is illegal for a mother to give her daughter a perm without a state license.
15. In Ohio, it is illegal to get a fish drunk.
16. In Tennessee it is illegal to share your Netflix password.
17. In Virginia, children are not to go trick-or-treating on Halloween.
18. In West Virginia, it is illegal to whistle underwater
19. In Alabama, it is illegal to wear a fake mustache in church that causes laughter
20. And finally, another mustache law, In Indiana mustaches are illegal if the wearer has a tendency to habitually kiss other humans
Now for a dozen true new laws taking effect January 1, 2021:
1. The Fed, passed several actions which are listed here:
a. The IRS raised cost-sharing limits on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as required by law
b. Employers also can expect higher penalties for noncompliance with the ACA in 2021
c. Employers will see a modest increase in their share of payroll taxes under the Federal
Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) as of January 1, 2021. The cap on earnings subject
to this Social Security (SS) tax will increase from the current $137,700 to $142,800 in
2021. Employers and employees split the 12.4% tax (6.2% each) set by law to fund SS.
d. There is no change to the Medicare portion of FICA
e. The Covid-19 based CAREs Act, made allowances for:
i. Payroll tax deferments
ii. Leave benefits
iii. Unemployment Insurance
2. Many laws in response to Covid-19 related issues, nearly every state passed labor, fair employment protection, and family medical leave laws. See each state for details.
3. California passed 20 new labor and employments laws: Look here for a list: California
4. Illinois will see an increase to the minimum wage, a potential statewide tax increase, changes to how employers have to report instances of sexual harassment and discrimination to the Illinois Department of Human rights, and the introduction of a college fund for children born and adopted in our state.
5. Several states added to, or amended, their FMLA laws – see each state for more details.
6. Indiana passed laws on matters ranging from increasing the smoking and vaping age to laws banning distracted driving, specifically prohibiting the use of a cellphone behind the wheel.
7. Arizona will see changes in the minimum wage, distracted driving, and marijuana legalization laws.
8. Colorado will see numerous changes to laws regarding wages and family medical leave.
9. New Mexico, Missouri and a few others will also have changes to minimum wage laws.
10. A Delaware law will prohibit stores with more than 7,000 square feet of retail sales space, or chain stores with at least 3,000 square feet of space, from handing out single-use plastic carryout bags for purchases. Restaurants, however, would be excluded. Also excluded are bags used to wrap meat, fish, flowers or potted plants; and bags used for live animals or chemical pesticides, or placed over articles of clothing.
11. Tennessee passed a law in 2018 requiring electronic prescriptions, rather than paper prescriptions, for all schedule II medications beginning Jan. 1, 2020. That law was amended in 2019 to include all controlled substances and is effective Jan. 1, 2021, according to the Tennessee Medical Association.
12. Florida passed new laws against Human Trafficking
Finally, some key dates (at least the top thirty) in our country’s history where specific laws led us to where we are today (these are a little lengthy but the details are important):
1. The Townshend Acts of 1767: the British placed taxes on imported goods, including glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. To enforce the acts, they imposed a heavy military presence on the Massachusetts colonists that exacerbated tensions between the local populace and representatives of the crown. On March 5, 1770, British sentries guarding the Boston Customs House were surrounded by jeering Bostonians slinging hard-packed snowballs. The small group of soldiers lost control when one of their regiment was struck. Despite explicit orders to the contrary, they shot into a crowd of civilians, killing three and injuring eight others, two of them mortally. Among those injured in the massacre was the African-American sailor Crispus Attucks.
2. June 11, 1776: The Second Continental Congress appointed three committees proposing independence for the American colonies. One of these committees, created to determine the form of a confederation of the colonies, was composed of one representative from each colony. The Articles of Confederation named the new country "the United States of America." It also provided for a Congress with representation based on population, and gave to the national government all powers not designated to the states.
3. November 15, 1777: Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation. Under the articles, each state retained "every Power...which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States." Each state had one vote in Congress. Instead of forming a strong national government, the states entered into "a firm league of friendship with each other." Because of disputes over representation, voting, and western lands claimed by some states, ratification by all 13 states, necessary to bring the confederation into being, was not completed until March 1, 1781, when Maryland became the last state to ratify.
4. July 4, 1776: America Issues its Declaration of Independence from Great Britain
5. June 14, 1777: The Continental Congress passed the Flag Act— the date would later become Flag Day. It stipulated that “the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”
6. October 19,1781: British General Cornwallis surrenders to George Washington, effectively ending the American Revolutionary War
7. September 3, 1783: The Treaty of Paris officially ends the war between the US and Great Britain. This treaty, sent to Congress by the American negotiators John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay, formally ended the Revolutionary War. It was one of the most advantageous treaties ever negotiated for the United States. Two crucial provisions were British recognition of U.S. independence and the delineation of boundaries that would allow for American expansion westward to the Mississippi River.
8. September 30, 1784: Thomas Jefferson designs the American currency system, the first decimal money in the world.
9. April 30, 1803: The Louisiana Territory, more than 800,000 square miles, that made up the western Mississippi basin, passed from French colonial rule to Spanish colonial rule and then back to the French before U.S. Pres. Thomas Jefferson pried it away from Napoleon in 1803 for a final price of some $27 million. Out of it were carved—in their entirety—the states of Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Oklahoma along with most of Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Minnesota.
10. May 2, 1803: France sells Louisiana territories to USA, which leads to Lewis and Clarks’ 28-month exploration and mapping of the new western United States.
11. January 1, 1808: The United States bans the importation of slaves
12. February 2, 1848: The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo brought to a close the Mexican-American War (1846–48) and seemingly fulfilled the Manifest Destiny of the United States championed by Pres. James K. Polk by adding 525,000 square miles (1,360,000 square km) of formerly Mexican land to the U.S. territory. Vast tracts of Mexican territory in wake of Mexican War including California and New Mexico
13. February 1, 1861: Following the election of Abraham Lincoln to President of the Unites States, seven southern states form the Confederate States of America.
14. April 12, 1861: Confederate soldiers fire on the Union garrison at Ft. Sumter in Charleston Bay (South Carolina) on May 13,1861: Following the commencement of hostilities, four more states join the Confederacy.
15. July 1, 1862: President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act into law. The act gave two companies, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad, responsibility for completing the transcontinental railroad and authorized extensive land grants and the issuance of 30-year government bonds to finance the undertaking.
16. September 22, 1862: The Emancipation Proclamation frees slaves in rebel areas. Initially, the Civil War between the North and the South was fought by the North to prevent the secession of the South and preserve the Union. Ending slavery was not a goal. That changed when President Abraham Lincoln issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which stated that slaves in those states or parts of states still in rebellion as of January 1, 1863, would be free. One hundred days later Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious areas “are, and henceforward shall be, free.” Lincoln’s bold step was a military measure by which he hoped to inspire the slaves in the Confederacy to support the Union cause. Because it was a military measure, the proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, and left slavery untouched in the border states. Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery, it did fundamentally transform the character of the war. Henceforth, every advance of Federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and their own freedom.
17. April 9, 1865: Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders the Army of Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House (Virginia), essentially ending the civil War and eventually dissolving the Confederate States of America.
18. December 10, 1898: US gains Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines and Cuba following the Spanish-American war. US annexes Hawaii.
19. January 1, 1902: Following President McKinley's assassination, Congress directed the Secret Service to protect the president of the United States as part of its mandate.
20. February 3, 1913: Personal income tax begins.
21. April 6, 1917: Congress votes to enter World War One by declaring war on Germany.
22. November 11, 1918: The armistice is signed -World War one comes to an end.
23. January 17, 1920 - Sale and manufacture of alcoholic liquor outlawed. The Prohibition era sees a mushrooming of illegal drinking joints, home-produced alcohol and gangsterism.
24. August 26, 1920: 19th Amendment to the US Constitution grants women the right to vote. The Nineteenth Amendment guarantees all American women the right to vote. The amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1878. Over the years, champions of voting rights pursued different strategies for achieving their goal. Some worked to pass suffrage acts in each state, and by 1912 nine western states had adopted woman suffrage legislation. Others challenged male-only voting laws in the courts. Suffragists also used tactics such as parades, silent vigils, and hunger strikes. Often supporters met fierce resistance as opponents heckled, jailed, and sometimes physically abused them. By 1916, almost all of the major suffrage organizations were united behind the goal of a constitutional amendment. The political landscape began to shift in 1917, when New York adopted woman suffrage and again in 1918, when President Woodrow Wilson changed his position to support an amendment. On May 21, 1919, the House of Representatives passed the amendment with the Senate following two weeks later. When Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920, the amendment passed its final hurdle of obtaining the agreement of three-fourths of the states.
25. March 12, 1933: at least one-fourth of the U.S. workforce was unemployed when the administration of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt first took on the ravages of the Great Depression with the New Deal, a federal government program that sought to bring about immediate economic relief as well as reforms in industry, agriculture, finance, labor, and housing. Roosevelt gave the first in a long series (1933–44) of straightforward informal radio addresses, the fireside chats, which were initially intended to garner support for the New Deal but eventually contributed to reformulating the American social mentality from one of despair to one of hope during a time of multiple crises, including the Great Depression and World War II. However, this began the largest concentration of deficit spending seen in the US and began this as a standard practice, in the years to come, for Congress.
26. April 30, 1951: The credit card is invented, expanding the availability of credit to the middle class.
27. May 17, 1954: The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated education is unconstitutional
28. May 9, 1960: he U.S. Food & Drug Administration Approves the First Contraceptive Pill.
29. July 2, 1964: President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act
30. July 18, 1964: Congress authorizes the US to intervene in the Viet Nam war through the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
31. January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade invalidated all state laws abolishing abortion, and set guidelines for the availability of abortion.
32. January 27, 1973: The Paris Peace Accords end US involvement in the Viet Nam war
33. November 25, 2002: As a result of the September 11th terrorist attacks, President Bush signs into law a bill creating a Department of Homeland Security, the biggest reorganization of federal government in more than 50 years.
34. March 23, 2010: Democrats in Congress succeed in passing a bill on health care reform, known as the Affordable Care Act, despite strong Republican opposition.
Hopefully, you had some fun with this, as well as a bit of a history lesson, on the keys laws that formed our country, the USA. Many of these laws greatly benefitted and improved our country, and some still loom as major issues and strongly debated concerns. There is little doubt that we are still the greatest country on earth, because of, and in some cases, in spite of, these laws. Even with Eastern coast states having a view that old school laws are more valid than new laws, and the Western coast views of laws only being guidelines, and finally the majority of the country whose heartland believes in the need and purpose of these laws, we still have freedom to worship God, seek an education, and work for our family’s, ourselves, and for the country’s common good. Because of our freedoms and those who died to provide us such a blessed life, we need to embrace these laws and thank our God and founding fathers for providing us a country where all people are free and equal.
In closing, I thank God for the USA. I thank every soldier, fireman and woman, and policeman and woman, for protecting us and putting their lives on the line for our freedom. My feelings, and I hope yours as well, are best reflected in Lee Greenwoods brilliant song; God Bless the USA. If you don’t know the song, I encourage you to download/purchase a copy. Here is a You tube version: God Bless the USA