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Athwart

License to Photocopy

by James Lileks

The new year brings new laws — over 40,000 statutes at the state level, each another incremental criminalization of some element of life. If every law in the country were eliminated tomorrow and a new batch drawn up, it’s hard to see how we could write more than 500, because after that you’re writing laws as stupid as “The guy who runs the copier at Kinko’s shall be licensed by the state” or banning beer with caffeine. Hold on: California just did that. Apparently perk-me-up lager is a problem in the Golden State, but it’s solved forever now. It would never occur to anyone to order a tap and a cup of coffee and alternate sips. If you’re keeping track of these things, the bill to ban the peril of wide-awake beer drinkers was Section 25622 of the Business and Professions Code, so if you’ve memorized 25,621 sections, one more shouldn’t be a problem. Keep them in mind as you go about your daily affairs.

Number of laws repealed? You can guess. The only laws that get repealed these days are sodomy laws, because we want to get the government out of certain bedrooms clucking in disapproval, so it can be hustled into other bedrooms to shout “Hurrah!” Now and then you’ll read a story about some absurd old law — “It shall be illegal to brandish a yam at an ox whilst it is in harness” — but when you ask if it’s been repealed, the answer’s no. It could come in handy. You never know.

As for the character of the laws, well, it boils down to DON’T and SHAN’T and DASN’T and other forms of prohibition. It’s rare you see a description that begins “California will now permit,” unless it’s a law about interspecies cohabitation (“The State shall permit a resident to have carnal knowledge of a horse with the animal’s consent, which shall be signified by stamping three times”) or the granting of yet another right, like extending OSHA benefits to performance artists. Be it resolved: The State shall extend disability payments to anyone who gets repetitive-motion injury playing Rock-Paper-Scissors with a reflection of himself in a mirror for six months on end. “It’s overdue, frankly,” said Overdue Frankly, a San Francisco street artist. “Our injuries may not be as real as those suffered in an industrial accident, but man, the cramps I get.”

Here’s an example of an actual California law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. “New legislation in California increases the misdemeanor penalty for animal neglect and makes it a crime to sell a live animal on any street, highway, public right-of-way, parking lot, or carnival.” That’ll stop folks from an impulse purchase of an elephant when the fair’s in town. They only end up getting dumped on a country road, eventually. Dad, what will happen to Jumbo? He’ll find a nice farm. This law includes “fully protected reptiles,” so if you set up shop on the highway shoulder to sell Javanese burping dragons, forget it — although there’s probably another law forbidding police to ask a dragon about his endangered status, so who knows how it all works out.

This statute was part of a larger bill about animal cruelty, and requires people who abuse animals to get mental counseling at their own expense. You say: Why, what of impoverished dog-botherers? Don’t worry. The bill provides for the negotiation of a deferred-payment schedule for counseling, with a sliding fee. On and on and on it goes, but you suspect it was already against the law to mistreat animals. Indeed, the statute assures us that nothing in the law affects enforcement of — ready? take a deep breath — the “Lockyer-Polanco-Farr Pet Protection Act contained in Article 2 (commencing with Section 122125) of Chapter 5 of Part 6 of Division 105 of the Health and Safety Code, or Sections 597 and 597l of this code.

The bill also exempts public goat sales. In related news, there are public goat sales in California.

California also attacked “cyber bullying,” the practice of being mean on social-network sites by use of “electronic device.” This includes pagers, in case anyone intends to go back to 1993 and send a taunting string of numbers. But nothing really compares to this:

The county clerk shall maintain a register of professional photocopiers, assign a number to each professional photocopier, and issue an identification card to each one. Additional cards for employees of professional photocopiers shall be issued upon the payment of ten dollars ($10) for each card.

(b) The identification card shall be a card not less than 3 1/4 inches by 2 inches, and shall contain at the top the title “Professional Photocopier” followed by the registrant’s name, address, registration number, date of expiration, and county of registration. It shall also contain a photograph of the registrant in the lower left corner.

This will quiet the lamentations of those victimized by rogue photocopiers. But some in the state house might have said, Hey, we have photocopier people in governments and schools. We can’t expect them to pay $10. And so: “If the Commission on State Mandates determines that this act contains costs mandated by the state, reimbursement to local agencies and school districts for those costs shall be made pursuant to Part 7 (commencing with Section 17500) of Division 4 of Title 2 of the Government Code.”

No doubt there are hundreds of lawyers who specialize in Part 7 of Division 4 of Title 2, to say nothing of the educators who teach its arcane and subtle ways.

And they say government stifles job creation.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.

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