The art of making laws, good and bad

Published 8:37 am Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The General Assembly is winding down to a close in Atlanta. During my time of service there, I came to realize that the last few days are the most dangerous time for lawmaking. Legislators are tired, tempers are frayed, and backroom dealing is at its peak.

It appears that some things never changed, as I watched the passage of the so-called Tax Reform Act this past week. It was introduced to the House on Monday, voted out on Tuesday and given its final approval just two days later.

While true that the legislature has been contemplating tax reform for several years, this is a mixed bag of exemptions and tax cuts. My biggest complaint is the speed at which something this complicated passed. The perception is that the process wasn’t transparent and certain lobbyists were pulling strings.

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I expect the final consequences of this bill won’t really be known for several years. In the meantime, agriculture and business came out pretty good and that can’t be too bad for the state of Georgia.

We’ll see how the average Georgian reacts when the tax is added to their latest online purchase. Perhaps we won’t even notice since a couple of the tax-free holidays for school supplies and energy-efficient appliances have been reinstated.

I used to think as the Session ended that the biggest accomplishment was not doing any major harm. We don’t always need new laws for every possible solution. Yet the cries for smaller government are often accompanied by hundreds of new bills being filed. Everyone has a better idea.

This morning while walking, I listened to an NPR podcast on “Dumb Laws”. This is in no way a reflection on the current or past General Assemblies’ body of work. It just seemed to be interesting that for all the good work of some hard working legislators, it is often the dumb things that are remembered.

The first example I heard was that in Georgia it is illegal to use profanity in front of a dead body which lies in a funeral home. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that law passed as the result of a good cussing out in front of a casket. I would love to know that story.

Georgia also has a law prohibiting members of the General Assembly from getting a speeding ticket while the legislature is in Session. I’ll be honest; I probably took advantage of that law during my time between Atlanta and southwest Georgia.

Signs are required to be in English in Georgia. That sounds like a grandstanding law to me. While Georgia has its fair share of immigrants from Mexico and many other countries, where have you ever been in our fair state that the vast majority of the population wasn’t speaking English?

I must admit that I have been on the reverse side of that law. The province of Québec in Canada has a law stating that all signs must be in French. There is no English signage anywhere. Even the maps are in French. If my GPS had not converted to English, I might still be trying to find my way in the countryside.

Oddly, you don’t have much problem in France with signage. The American invasion by McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Starbucks has made it pretty easy to get around in Paris.

The state lawmakers aren’t the only ones that have some fun with lawmaking along the way. Several Georgia cities have approved ordinances that make you wonder what they are thinking about.

For instance, the Kennesaw city ordinance requiring every citizen to own a firearm is fairly well-known around the country. What is not as broadly known is that the city of Acworth, in an attempt to poke fun at its nearby neighbor, passed a law requiring all citizens to own a rake. That probably comes in handy with the leaves in the fall.

In Atlanta, it has been illegal to tie a giraffe to a telephone pole or a street lamp. I am not sure where else you would tie one.

In Columbus, you can’t get a tattoo on Sunday, carve your initials in a tree or cuss over the telephone. You can’t make fun of an idiot. Thankfully, that is not the law in Washington, D.C., or half the newspapers covering our nation’s Capitol would go out of business.

Picnics are prohibited in graveyards. Normally I would have never thought this would be an issue anywhere. However, the Oconee Hill Cemetery in Athens is a favorite tailgating spot thanks to its proximity to Sanford Stadium. The Georgia Letterman’s Club gathers there before every home game.

In Gainesville, the poultry capital of the world, chicken must be eaten with hands. Is there any other way?

In Marietta, it is illegal to spit from a car or a bus, but it is legal to spit from a truck. I guess that is to accommodate the tobacco chewers.

Quitman has a law that prohibits chickens from crossing the road. How can they get to the other side?

Georgia is no different from any other state when it comes to making some strange laws. It is just that this is where we live so we can poke fun at ourselves.

I do know that for better or worse, there are a lot of state Senators and representatives that will be ready and anxious to get home after another long session. The outcomes of the session aren’t always what the people back home are looking for, but all our elected officials still make great sacrifices to serve.

Dan Ponder can be reached at