Sunday, January 22, 2012

Do you know your city code?

A glance through the Chattanooga city code calls to mind a quote attributed to Winston Churchill: “[i]f you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law”.  Section 25 of our city’s code is entitled “Offenses and Miscellaneous Provisions” and contains many offenses which are silly and duplicative with state law.   
Among the highlights are the following:

Sec. 25-9 – A ban on “fortunetelling” which includes “any person who tells fortunes by means of occult  or psychic powers, facilities or forces, clairvoyance, psychology, psychometry, spirits, mediumship,  seership, prophecy, astrology, palmistry, necromancy, phrenology, talismans, cards, graphology or other craft or mystery, science or character or magic of any kind or character.”  It is not clear what source the horoscope column in our paper relies on (likely not necromancy), but surely it is in violation.

Sec. 25-12 – A declaration that “It shall be unlawful for any person to play baseball or any similar game on property adjacent to or near any improved premises without having obtained the written consent of the persons owning such improved premises.”  It sounds like a cranky neighbor had the ear of a city councilman.  No wonder baseball is declining in popularity; makes you wonder -  if baseball is outlawed will only outlaws play baseball? 

Sec. 25-18 – Makes unlawful the spitting “upon any sidewalk or in any public conveyance or in any school, church or other building where the public assemble in the city.”  One questions how bad the spitting problem had become before this ordinance was enacted?

Sec. 25-21 – A provision making it “unlawful for any person to throw or fling any stone or other missile against any house or other building in the city, or against or through the window of any building, public or private.”  The section does not define “missile,” but they are probably not talking about this.

Sec. 25-66 – A typical noise ordinance making unlawful any “unreasonably loud, disturbing or unnecessary noise”.  Notably, there are certain enumerated acts that specifically violate the noise ordinance.  Among these are “hooting” on the streets or sidewalks, and the keeping of dogs which “bark at an average rate of ten (10) or more barks per minute over a period of five (5) minutes which can be heard from a distance of one hundred (100) feet or more”.

Now some of the things mentioned are reasonably objectionable, but there is a legitimate concern over the cost of so many laws or regulations.  In addition to this city code (which contains 38 Chapters), there is a myriad of state and federal laws and regulations.  Not only does the sheer amount make it hard to know what is exactly “the law” but carries the danger of a “regulatory fatigue”.  The situation is akin to trying to play a board game with a 500 page rulebook, at some point you just play and make it up as you go.    

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