Legislators Debate Fake Nails, Pet Trusts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Far-fetched proposals seeking everything from the regulation of fake fingernails in eateries to a statewide rejection of federal income tax came before U.S. state legislatures in 2004, most to no avail.

Despite almost certain failure, state lawmakers have spent dozens of hours on scores of unusual bills this fiscal year that moved far beyond standard spending proposals.

In Kentucky, where the Legislature failed to pass a budget on time, the House debated and overwhelmingly approved a bill to prohibit humans and animals from being buried in the same cemetery. It passed 89-1, but has not moved in the Senate.

Mississippi lawmakers filed measures to prohibit “Toughman” fighting competitions; to draft regulations governing the use of fake nails by waitresses; and to stop hotels or motels from renting rooms for less than 24 hours. They all died in committee.

Women in Georgia could have had twice as many toilets available to them than men do in buildings owned by cities, counties or the state if the Senate had followed the House’s lead in passing the bill.

Politicians throughout the United States have complained about the “strange” bills that pepper legislative sessions and inevitably take up time that would otherwise, theoretically, be spent on must-do items, such as budgets.

For example, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in April said he would support turning the state’s full-time legislature into a part-time body to keep lawmakers from concocting “strange bills.”

In New Hampshire, state rules require that all bills filed be presented for a vote by the full legislature.

This year, that included a House bill to nullify the U.S. Constitution’s 16th Amendment, which gave Congress the power to tax incomes, as well as a Senate bill to create trusts for pets.

But to be sure, sponsors of such bills do not see them as a waste of time.

Despite calling some of his own bills “kooky,” New Hampshire Rep. Dan Itse, a Republican, said the state’s rules requiring all measures be considered by the full legislature gets issues on the table that would otherwise be ignored.

New Hampshire Gov. Craig Benson, a Republican, agreed.

“I think this keeps people believing that the system is fair and listening to all sides,” he said.

Consideration of proposed laws generally falls within states’ regular legislative sessions, which vary in length. But the debate can often come at considerable expense, with funds spent on everything from building operations to lawmakers’ salaries.

Some see a silver lining in this.

“There are some schools of thought that would say if they are debating needlessly, then at least they’re not debating higher taxes,” said Chris Kinnan, spokesman for Citizens for a Sound Economy, an anti-tax group.

© 2004 Reuters