March turned to April a couple days ago, and with it came a raft of April Fools' jokes. (It also elicited a new round of sighs from Republicans who had hoped to find out that their presidential field was really an elaborate reality TV punking.)
In the spirit of the season, I'm devoting this column to April's Fools and fools. Guess which of these are bills actually introduced in state legislatures around the country, and which are gags of my own creation (answers at bottom).
Ladies first. It should come as no surprise that many of the weirdest, most outrageous bills that have popped up around the country in recent months focus on women. Take a recent Wisconsin Senate bill that would have required the state's Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board to "emphasize" single parenthood "as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect." The bill, which happily died this month, had two sponsors. One, state Sen. Glenn Grothman, thinks liberals want children to be born out of wedlock "because they are more likely to be dependent on the government." The bill's other sponsor, a state representative named Don Pridemore, has said that spouses in abusive relationships should try to stay in them rather than divorce.
He might be comfortable with a prize of a bill introduced this year in the New Hampshire state House that would have required police to obtain a warrant before making an arrest in a domestic violence case unless they had seen the abuse taking place firsthand. Happily, that bill also met its deserved fate when the legislature killed it as "inexpedient to legislate."
No discussion of legislative assaults upon women would be complete without touching on contraception. A law shot down just this week in the Arizona state Senate would have allowed any employer (not just religiously affiliated ones) to refuse to provide contraception coverage on moral grounds … unless a woman produced a note from her doctor certifying that she needed it for medical reasons (rather than the presumed moral turpitude).
"Feticide." I'll skip over conservatives' insistence that women must undergo (sometimes invasive) ultrasounds before getting the perfectly legal medical procedure known as abortion. (The same people who object to warnings on cigarette packs because everyone knows the hazards of smoking simultaneously believe that a woman who wants an abortion must not realize how pregnancy works.) That's not the only abortion-related fight going on. A proposed Iowa law would classify abortion as "feticide," bringing life in prison without parole for the doctor.
For sheer weirdness, though, nothing beats Oklahoma. State Sen. Ralph Shortey wants to ban "food or any product intended for human consumption which contains aborted human fetuses." Even he admitted, "I don't know if it is happening in Oklahoma." No word on whether he's going to follow on with a bill banning Soylent Green. Oklahoma also brought what has been called the "every sperm is sacred" bill, for the old Monty Python sketch, which, in the spirit of granting personhood at the moment of conception, would deem any waste of sperm (as in, for example, masturbation) "an action against an unborn child." This month a local Delaware council approved a similar resolution.
Don't say gay. Tennessee has become a culture wars battleground. One bill in the Volunteer State's legislature would ban teachers from talking about homosexuality in elementary and middle school sex ed classes (hence its nickname: the "don't say gay" bill). Homosexuality "happens in nature, but so does bestiality," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Stacey Campfield. "That does not make it right or something we should be teaching in school." Campfield and his allies agreed to let the bill stall when they realized that Tennessee currently has no sex ed in elementary and middle school.
The Tennessee state Senate this month passed a bill encouraging teachers to give both sides of "controversial" topics such as evolution and global warming. Maybe they hope to set up a modern-day Scopes monkey trial.
The never-ending crazy. The Tennessee House also voted overwhelmingly this month to condemn a two-decade-old nonbinding United Nations sustainable development plan as a "destructive and insidious" communist plot. Not to be outdone, Wyoming's legislature debated (and killed) legislation that called for the state to start making plans for a catastrophe that incapacitated the federal government—including the possibility of setting up an "alternative currency" to the U.S. dollar. Another provision, which would have looked into setting up a draft and acquiring an aircraft carrier, was added with the intent of sinking the bill. It succeeded.
Not all state lawmakers look abroad with fear. Three New Hampshire representatives proposed a bill (since killed) requiring that all Granite State legislation include a quotation from the Magna Carta "which sets forth the article from which the individual right or liberty is derived."
Of course, this would have run afoul of the movement against sharia, or Islamic law. Legislators in 22 states have introduced bills banning courts from applying foreign or sharia laws, a mystifying solution in search of a nonexistent problem.
And did I mention the Florida lawmaker who wants to repeal the state's ban on dwarf-tossing?
You can't make this stuff up—literally. If you guessed that all of these examples are real, you get full credit. If you guessed the "every sperm is sacred" bills were too absurd to be true, you get half credit: Their sponsors proffered them with legislative tongues planted firmly in cheeks.