In the 1970s, a task force was created to go through old California laws with the intent to rescind laws and regulations that either no longer make sense or are now outdated.
It was fun to read about the laws the task force considered and try to understand why they were ever created. It was, for example, illegal to spit on the sidewalk and against the law to tie a horse to something other than a hitching post.
Both of those laws are now gone. People can pretty much spit where they want or tie their horse to a variety of places. Consider, if you will, that a lot of people chewed tobacco back in the early days. Spit made a real mess. Spittoons solved the problem inside of buildings, but outside? A lady’s long skirt was a wonderful place to sweep whatever was in her way.
Horses poop when and where they want. Life was easier when the street cleaner (so to speak) only had to concern himself around hitching posts. They didn’t have to worry about someone else’s front yard.
We still have some laws that seem odd in current society.
Film producers must have permission from a pediatrician before filming a child under the age one month. Are the parents a consideration here?
Throwing a Frisbee at the beach in Los Angeles County is unlawful unless you first get a lifeguard’s permission. What if there is no lifeguard present?
One hundred years from now we can only guess what people would say when they review laws that California has on the books, or the laws that we have considered.
There is a statewide ban on plastic bags. Not all bags, just the ones from grocery stores and, it appears, drug stores. Bags are a nuisance. They blow in the wind, snag on bushes and, of course, pollute the ocean. But why only grocery stores? Lowes and Home Depot bags don’t count? Don’t they blow? There are lots of bags that should be on this list.
It would have been interesting to be in the room when talk began to address the problem of straws. They are a nuisance. Ban? No! But a customer must ask for one in a full-service restaurant. A waitress who offers a straw, without a request, can be fined $25; up to $300, each day for continued violation.
But wait. This law only applies to full-service restaurants. And, what counts as continued violation? How many straws come from full-service restaurants compared to McDonald's and Wendy’s? If straws are bad, shouldn’t we address the entire problem? Wouldn’t you think that more straws come from fast food restaurants compared to full-service places to eat?
Like all good intentional activity, there are consequences to these laws. If a food server wishes to make use of his or her First Amendment right (Freedom of Speech) by asking a customer if they wish a straw, there is an immediate constitutional conflict. And, really, who wants to sit on a jury in judgment of a food server asking a customer a question about a straw?
California already has many grocery stores that do not offer free bags (plastic or otherwise) for large sales. Bags are an incentive for people to avoid the “discount” food store. So, it appears that when the cheap “single-use” bags are gone, how do full-service grocery stores regain their customer base? They give away the 10-cent bags for free!
What’s next? There is movement in Sacramento to eliminate single-use eating items. Plastic knives and forks are a target. Styrofoam may become banned. Californians have reduced home cooking and turned to an “order out” society. How will people eat?
This conversation is not to argue for or against bags and straws. But we should question where it all ends. If we enjoy any single-use item in California, it’s a newspaper. Does that mean we end newspapers, too?
H. Steven Cronquist is a property and casualty insurance broker, since 1974. He also teaches insurance classes to other insurance agents for continuing education. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.