Strange state laws are obsolete, humorous

Jessica Lee

Growing up we were taught a number of rules. As children, we were told to look both ways before crossing the street. As young adults, we were forced to memorize all the driving laws before getting a license. The reasoning behind these rules made sense: you look both ways to see if there is oncoming traffic, you memorize driving laws to avoid a car accident. But some Texas laws may come as a complete surprise.

For example, it is illegal to carry wire cutters in your pocket in Austin. According to government professor David Prindle, this law dates back to when there was a controversy between landowners who preferred open ranges and those who wanted to keep their land closed off with barbed wire. Some in favor of open ranges went around cutting the barbed wire. It was difficult to determine who the criminal was, so by creating a law prohibiting wire cutters from being carried, this discretion was easily avoided.

“I suspect a lot of the weird laws are old,” Prindle said. “Some were certainly relevant at the time they were made. Though, there is one I remember that prohibited throwing onions, and I can’t imagine why that was necessary.”

Other laws seem crazy but are still enforceable. In Texas, if you and your partner socially refer to one another as husband and wife, you can be considered legally married.

This is known as a common law marriage. It simply requires an agreement between partners that they are married and living together. Not all states recognize and give the same rights to those in a common law marriage.

Law student Luis Soberon is interested in the law of adverse possession.

“In Texas, the law of adverse possession states that if you occupy someone else’s land for a certain amount of time and if you actually intended to dispossess the true owner, you get the land,” Soberon said. “Basically, it turns a trespasser into a legal owner, and in Texas, it’s like rewarding the wrongdoer.”

This law was tested last year in Flower Mound, Texas, when Kenneth Robinson moved into a $330,000 house that had been in foreclosure. He filled out the necessary paperwork, filed it with the Denton County courthouse and paid a mere $16 for the rights to the house.

“This dates back to the early 20th century when squatters were farming on land not owned by them,” Prindle said. “It passed because these squatters voted in favor of adverse possession.”

Then there are the shockingly strange incidents.

In 1971, the Texas Legislature passed a resolution honoring Albert de Salvo. Salvo murdered 13 women in the 1960s and was christened the “Boston Strangler.” According to Prindle, Representative Tom Moore Jr. introduced the resolution in order to prove his point that legislators regularly pass bills without fully reading them. His point was quickly proven.

Multimedia journalism senior Cameron Miculka found this particular incident humorous, but still relevant to current problems in the Texas Legislature.

“I think that the root of the problem is that legislators don’t read and research everything thoroughly because of the massive amount of legislation they receive,” Miculka said. “I understand that it is not feasible for legislators to read everything that passes by their desks, but I would hope that those elected would trust their staff enough to do research so that serial killers aren’t honored through legislation.”

In 1980, Corpus Christi residents voted in favor of a proposition that would lower the property tax ceiling and limit annual tax increases. The city’s response to this was to sue the residents, forcing the taxpayers to foot the bill for the lawsuit against themselves.

One thing you may not consider crazy is the Texas state flower being the bluebonnet, or the Texas state bird being the mockingbird, but if you’ve been referring to the plant eating lizard “Pleurocoelus altus” as the Texas state dinosaur, think again.

In 2007, Southern Methodist University paleontology graduate student Peter Rose examined the dinosaur’s fossil only to determine that it had never set foot in Texas. In 2009, the state dinosaur was changed to the “Paluxysaurus,” a species which was found in northern Texas.

So while Austin is certainly weird, you may want to extend that term to the entire state of Texas — or the laws at least.

Printed on Monday, February 20, 2012 as: Quirky laws are obsolete, funny to modern Texans