Attorney Trey Wilson - RL Wilson Law

12 January 2009

Antiquated Laws Remain on the Books in Texas

On April 26, 2007, the Texas Senate passed a bill which, if signed into law by Governor Perry, would repeal the authority of the “Texas Commission of Control for Texas Centennial Celebrations” to condemn historic properties in observance of our State's 100th anniversary. The House passed this measure on March 20, 2007. While the Centennial Celebration was by all accounts a legendary party, it ended in 1936! Texas is now 171 years old, but state law still allows an agency to condemn private property for a shindig which very few living Texas can even remember.

This is just one of many outdated, unnecessary and sometimes comedic laws, ordinances and regulations that remain on the books in Texas. A brief survey of enactments by our elected officials reveals the often silly and sometimes Draconian results of the parens patriae mentality.

The Texas Penal Code is replete with interesting provisions. Did you know that it is illegal to trip a horse, communicate betting odds, or look into a neighboring hotel room? Another antiquated section of our Penal Code attracted national attention in 2003 when a Cleburne woman was busted for possessing “obscene devices” with an “intent to promote” them. Her arrest was the result of a sting operation conducted by undercover police officers posing as a married couple in search of a sex aid. As a sales consultant for Passion Parties – a company which employs consultants to host seminars in their homes to hawk gels, lubricants, and edible puddings -- the former teacher claimed that the self-pleasuring devices were simply part of her inventory. While the viability of that defense was dubious, she likely could have relied on Section 49.23(g) of the Texas Penal Code, which vindicates persons who possess or promote obscene material or devices “for a bona fide medical, psychiatric, judicial, legislative, or law enforcement purpose.” After much reflection, I must admit that I cannot conceive of a bona fide medical or legislative reason to possess an “obscene device.”

The East Texas town of Nacogdoches is famous for its witty ordinances. At one time it was against city law for "young women" to indulge in the culinary delights of raw onions after 6 p.m. Another deleted provision required wives of drunks to administer a "large dose of castor oil." Today, Ordinance 46-2 prohibits any person from using “a body of water in the city, which contains sewage… or waste for swimming or bathing purposes.” So much for taking a therapeutic bath at the Nacogdoches sewer treatment plant!

In Mesquite, you commit a misdemeanor if you fail to return a library book after receiving notice that it is overdue, while causing “material distress, discomfort or injury” by an unreasonably strong odor will get you cited in Texarkana. Mischievously ringing a doorbell is a misdemeanor in Temple, and simply engaging in “annoying pursuits” is banned in Port Arthur.

Here in San Antonio it is illegal to spit upon sidewalks, crosswalks, theaters and the floors of churches. It is equally impermissible to “climb pecan trees in any public park or street…or to throw sticks or stones for the purpose of gathering pecans.” Perhaps the most egregious and obtrusive legislation of all is San Antonio Ordinance 21-21 which prohibits the sale or use of a "liquid string, silly string, or super string" during Fiesta! There must have been at least several thousand scofflaws at the Battle of Flowers parade last week.

While some unusual laws made historic sense, others seem to have no rational basis in any era. Fortunately, or unfortunately – depending on your perspective - seemingly absurd legislation is not a thing of the past. Just last Session, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill that would have reduced funding for schools whose cheerleaders performed “sexually suggestive” routines. The Senate apparently did not share the lower body’s concern over the manner in which bawdy cheerleading jeopardized the well being of Texans everywhere, and the bill died in Committee. I heard that the line was 14:9 that it will be re-introduced this Session! If not, rest assured that legislation of an equally incongruous nature will be introduced, and some of it will become the law of the land.

Trey Wilson --Named By Scene in SA Magazine As One of San Antonio's Best Real Estate Litigation Attorneys -- September 2008 -- As voted on by peers