AUSTIN (KXAN) - What some might find funny, the staff at the Texas Legislative Reference Library find fascinating. They are the kind of things Catherine Wusterhausen loves to look up when the Legislature is out of session.
"We like to think there's some strange little bit of history lurking out there,” said Wusterhausen, the library’s assistant director. "Usually, they're called 'dumb laws in Texas,' and people want to know: 'Is this a real law? Was it ever a real law?'"
For one, it is considered criminal mischief to cut a fence. You have to keep the cattle in somehow.
"It's one of those things that sounds strange, but there really was a reason for it,” Wusterhausen said of the provision that dates back to the late 1800s.
In a time when agriculture ruled the state's economy, it also ruled the courtroom. It was once considered theft to milk another man's cow. And it is still illegal to make workers use a short-handled hoe, because it is bad on the back.
"This is the sort of research we enjoy,” she said.
Becky Johnson, a reference librarian in the Capitol, said sometimes laws just seem dates, so lawmakers have amended the Texas Penal Code over the years.
"It used to be that ministers were not allowed to serve in the Legislature, because it would be a conflict of interest,” Johnson explained.
At one time, morticians could not curse around bodies. It was illegal to sleep in beauty shops. And it was once illegal to call someone a “coward” in the newspaper. The fine went up if the offender refused a challenge to a duel from the aggrieved.
Some of the strangest ideas never see the light of day. But they are some of Wusterhausen’s favorite topics to discuss – like a bill that would have required criminals to give their victims fair warning before they broke the law.
"On this date, at this time, I will be committing a burglary,” she laughed. “That's not a law. It's never been a law."
Or one that would have made a day to honor the man who claimed to be the Boston Strangler.
"I think it's interesting to note the resolution was filed on April 1, 1971,” she added. “I think it was intended as an April Fool's joke."
Wusterhausen said it is just a little legal humor before the next session gets underway, and lawmakers return to make new laws future leaders might find funny, too.
"I'm sure lawmakers always want to do what's best for their constituents,” she said.
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