Smart government
10 of the Craziest State Laws Still on the Books
Free Enterprise Staff | March 3, 2015

If you ever find yourself in Massachusetts, first make sure you try a breakfast sandwich from Flour Bakery. But if you don’t like it, be careful not to accidentally spit it out on a public sidewalk because, if you do, you’re breaking the law.

Specifically, you’d be violating Section 14 of Chapter 270 under Title I in Part IV of the General Laws of Massachusetts. In its entirety, the 131-word rule prohibits spitting on public sidewalks, “upon any place used exclusively or principally by pedestrians,” and “in or upon any part of any city or town hall,” among a number of other provisions. What will your transgression cost you? Well, depending on the kindness of the adjudicating officer, you’ll be forced to pay a fine of not more than $20.

Of course, we don’t condone spitting, especially in a public setting—few things are more nausea inducing than witnessing a person summon phlegm from the deepest depths of his respiratory tract before subsequently releasing it into the wild. But having a law on the books that is rarely, if ever, enforced doesn’t seem to make much sense to the average person, particularly when it comes to something as seemingly trivial as spitting.

Yet this rule is not an outlier when it comes to the complex and disparate sets of regulations and laws in the U.S. Given this fractured nature, it’s unsurprising that so many small business owners and entrepreneurs report such difficulty understanding and navigating today’s business landscape.

It was with this in mind that we set out to identify some of the absurd laws and regulations that are still on the books in states across the country. Here’s a sampling of 10 that we found to be the most confusing and even comical.

1. No big winners in beach bingo in this state.

If you and your friends want to play a game of beach bingo in the Outer Banks, make sure that you’re not offering a prize that’s worth more than $10. That’s because if you have a prize whose value is greater than $10 but less than $50, you’re guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. Anyone who offers a prize worth more than $50, however, is guilty of a Class I felony.

To add insult to injury, if you happen to be convicted under any of the provisions of North Carolina law, then you’re also not legally allowed to conduct a bingo game for at least a year—which is, of course, far too long a time for any serious beach bingo players.

2. There are very specific laws about dyeing baby fowl here. 

In Kentucky, you have to very careful if you want to sell, exchange, or display living baby chicks, ducklings, or other fowl that have been dyed or colored. If you do so, just remember that you must sell a quantity of at least six such animals, lest you be in violation of state law.

3. Willfully blaspheming could land you a jail sentence.

Likely a relic of its religious history, Massachusetts has a rule aimed at preventing blasphemy. Violating that regulation—Section 36 of Chapter 272 under Title I in Part IV of the state’s General Laws—could send you to jail for “not more than one year,” or force you to pay a fine of not more than $300.

 4. Don’t listen to music without headphones in this state.

New York has a rule that forbids anyone from creating “any unreasonable noise by any means.” While most of us would agree that people who listen to music without earphones are inconsiderate, it doesn’t seem like an offense that deserves ejection from the train, a fine of not more than $50, or up to 30 days in jail. But, hey, maybe you disagree?

5. Impersonating a masseuse is a finable offense in this state.

In California, affirming that you’ve received instruction in massage therapy when you know you have not is a misdemeanor. Under state law, each violation of this rule—Section 628-628.5 of the State Penal Code—could result in a fine of not more than $2,500, imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or both a fine and imprisonment.

6. Secret societies are outlawed here.

In North Carolina, there’s a rule on the books that outlaws any secret society or organization whose mission is aimed at “circumventing the laws of the state.” So, don’t even think about it, okay?

7. So is bribing a horse show judge.

If you stick around the Tar Heel state, don’t bother bribing a horse show judge. Per Article 51A of the state’s law book, doing so with the intent to influence his decision-making or judgment will result in a Class 2 misdemeanor.

8. Doors of public buildings must open outward in this state.

This one is rather straightforward: In Florida, the doors to public buildings must open outward. According to the statute, “All buildings erected in this state for theatrical, operatic, or other public entertainments of whatsoever kind shall be so constructed that the shutters to all entrances to said building shall open outwardly.” Any owner, manager, or lessee found in violation of the rule could be found guilty of a third-degree felony.

9. Don’t allow your dog to chase a bear or a bobcat here.

In California, Senate Bill Number 1221 effectively outlawed owners from allowing or permitting their dogs to pursue bears or bobcats at any time. However, the bill still cleared the way for the use of not more than three dogs to pursue bears or bobcats “pursuant to a depredation permit issued by the department.” In case you were planning on using your pet Chihuahua to pursue bears and bobcats, there doesn’t seem to be any language that bars pet rabbits or gerbils from hunting the wild animals.

10. While we’re on the subject, this state prohibits unlawful bear exploitation.

If you’re in the mood to exploit bears, then don’t head to Alabama, which explicitly forbids bear exploitation. Per state rules, a person is technically exploiting a bear if he or she, among other acts, “promotes, engages in, or is employed at a bear wrestling match” or “sells, purchases, possesses, or trains a bear for bear wrestling.” For the evildoers lurking among us, bear exploitation is a Class B felony in Alabama “and is punishable as provided by law.”