Librarians at the Legislative Reference Library of Texas are laying down the law—and doing their best to remove some odd ones that have lingered on the books for a long time, sometimes to relatively little notice.
The 12 librarians provide historical state law research assistance to policymakers, committees, state agencies, and the public. They received national attention this week after Reuters published a feature exploring their work.
"We are the go-to organization for researching the history of legislation in Texas," said Cynthia Burress, senior reference librarian, in an interview. "We can see what the rules used to be, why they were written the way they were, and why certain laws were put in place."
National Geographic contacted the library to learn more about the strange legislation they've unearthed.
Here are four of the laws they've evaluated.
Don't Milk My Cow
Removed law. There was once a Texas law that prohibited the milking of another person's cow. The penalty: $10.
According to the Texas Legislative Reference Library, older laws cited milking someone else's cow as a specific offense, though current ones don't mention it.
The act of "milking another [man's] cow" was mentioned in the Criminal Statutes Penal Code in 1925:
Whoever without the consent of the owner shall take up, use or milk any cow, not his own, shall be fined not exceeding ten dollars.
Research shows this particular law had been on the books for more than a hundred years. A source note in the 1925 Penal Code indicates that the law was active in 1866 and possibly earlier. It was finally removed in 1973.
Milking other person's cow is still illegal; the difference is that modern milk burglars will be charged with theft of personal property.
Changing the Weather
Existing law. There's a law against weather modification, though whether or not one can single-handedly change the weather is a different story. (Related: "Scientists Make Dozens of Storms in the Abu Dhabi Desert?")
According to the Texas State Historical Association, weather modification has been part of the state's history since 1890, when a Civil War battalion experimented with gunpowder to produce rain clouds.
Their attempts to create rainfall were unsuccessful, but they provoked local scientists to explore the idea of weather modification. Several groups of scientists continue that work today.
In Texas, individuals or groups seeking to modify the weather must first contact a local newspaper. The requirement is part of the Texas Agriculture Code, which reads:
A notice of intent [to modify the weather] must be published at least once a week for three consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in each county in which the operation is to be conducted.
That law was passed by the Texas legislature in 2001, but it isn't the first time weather modification was addressed by state statute. The Texas Legislative Reference Library noted that such laws date to the Weather Modification Act of 1967.
No Luck on the Second Floor
Not a law. It's not against the law to shoot buffalo from the second floor of a hotel. This alleged law is included among a plethora of other "strange Texas laws" on several websites that explore the subject. Alas, the law does not exist—and apparently never did.
The Texas Legislative Reference Library was unable to locate any records of this oddly specific animal rights law in past or current legislation, after someone asked the librarians to check it out (it's unclear who asked).
But such an offense is probably illegal anyway, since shooting a gun from a hotel window would likely violate other laws.
Weeding Out the Neighbors
Removed law. Before this law was revised in 1973, it was illegal to plant Johnson grass—a destructive weed that kills crops—on another person's property. Its history has long roots.
In 1895, the Texas legislature passed a law making it illegal to "unlawfully sow, scatter or place on land" the seed or roots of Johnson grass and Russian thistle, also called tumbleweed. (Related: "The Weed That Won the West.")
According to the Texas Legislative Reference Library, this provision was repealed in 1973. At that time, the Texas legislature reformed the penal law to make way for more general offenses.
But that wasn't the end for Johnson grass in the penal system. In 1913, the Texas legislature passed a series of laws regarding the protection of the local irrigation system and the removal of encroaching Johnson grass from irrigation sites.
These provisions were transferred to the Texas Water Code in 1971, where they still exist today.
Editor's Note: The materials on this website do not constitute legal advice.
Know of any bizarre laws in your hometown? Let us know in the comments section.