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slides: See The List: The 50 Dumbest Laws in Rhode Island

Thursday, July 18, 2013


From the archaic to the bizarre, the Rhode Island statutes are riddled with laws that have long outlasted their usefulness, or worse, could be used by an overzealous prosecutor against well-meaning citizens. Here are the 50 dumbest laws in the state, covering everything from apple and egg-labeling to unlicensed pool tables and rowdy oyster houses. Check where they exist in the code as well as the penalties you'll incur if you break them. Seriously.

To read more about the dumbest laws in Rhode Island click here.

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Greasy Pig Contests

RIGL 4-1-28

We’re not sure what a greasy pig contest is, but it’s illegal. Anyone who lets their favorite porker roughhouse a little too much in the mud faces a fine between $50 and $500 or 11 months in prison.

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Feeding Garbage to Pigs

RIGL 4-3-3             

Feeding garbage to a pig does not sound like a task requiring much skill, but state law says you need a permit. Unlicensed garbage feeding is a misdemeanor that carries a $200 fine.

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Garbage Boiling Rule

RIGL 4-3-6

Pigs aren’t exactly picky eaters, but all Ocean State swine can only eat garbage that has been boiled. Don’t skimp out on this one: it’s a misdemeanor with a $200 fine.

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Swill Through Middletown

RIGL 4-3-13

It’s illegal to bring offal and swill into Middletown—but only if you leave it there. Transporting offal and swill through Middletown to another destination is OK. Penalty: $100 fine.

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The Poultry Patrol

RIGL 4-10-2

We imagine the DEM director has other things to do, but state law mandates that he (or she) should be supervising any movement of live poultry from one place to another in the state. And just to show they meant it, state lawmakers attached a $100 offense for anyone who shirks their duty. Second offenses carry a $200 fine and one year in prison.

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Unlicensed Pool Tables

RIGL 5-2-10

It’s illegal to own or keep a billiard, pool, scippio, or similar table without a license. Penalty: $20 or three months in prison.

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No Pool for Minors

RIGL 5-2-13

No one under 18 can use a pool table or similar table in a bar or other place where alcohol is served. Violators risk the loss of their license, a $20 fine, and three months in prison. Bar owners can get an exception from their local city or town, but why make it harder for teens to engage in non-alcoholic activities?

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Unruly Laundromats

RIGL 5-16-5

Laundromats must have been quite noisy back in the day. In 1928, state lawmakers banned them from operating between midnight and 5am and on Sundays in any town that had a population of less than 20,000, according to the U.S. Census. Violators face a $500 fine or 10 days in jail. Exceptions were made for coin-operated laundries.

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Getting Drunk at Taverns

RIGL 5-24-4

Taverns, cookshops, and oyster houses can’t allow any patrons to get intoxicated. We’re guessing that downtown Providence would empty out pretty quickly were this law to be enforced. Penalties: $50 fine, half to the city and half to the state.

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No Addicts at a Bar

RIGL 5-24-4

Taverns, cookshops, and oyster houses can’t allow their venues to be frequented by drunkards or any “person addicted to the intemperate use of spirituous or intoxicating liquors.” This isn’t wildly unreasonable, but unless AA starts issuing membership cards we’re not sure how to enforce this one. Penalty: $50 fine, half to the city and half to the state.

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Overspending on Spirits

RIGL 5-24-4

This seems a noble if ill-conceived law: taverns, cookshops, and oyster houses can’t allow a customer to waste their money. But unless we find a way for bartenders to do instant credit checks, this doesn’t seem all that practical. Penalty: $50 fine, half to the city and half to the state.

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Imported Shoes

RIGL 5-41-1

If you’re planning a garage sale this summer be forewarned: it’s illegal to sell imported shoes without notifying customers that it’s foreign. Even if you didn’t know the footwear was foreign you could still face a fine between $50 and $100. Subsequent offenses: as much as $500 in fines or three months in prison.

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Rogue Athletic Trainers

RIGL 5-60-9

It’s important for health professionals to be licensed. But requiring licenses for athletic trainers and making it a misdemeanor to even “perform the duties of an athletic trainer” goes a bit too far. Penalties: $25 to $50 fine.

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Adultery Illegal

RIGL 11-6-2

Not that we’re condoning adultery, but having the state police the bedroom seems like a pretty dumb idea. Fining an adulterer $500 is even dumber.

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No Liquor Near Church

RIGL 11-11-3

It’s against the law for a vendor to sell liquor, food, or anything else within a mile of any outdoor religious meeting. Let’s hope WateFire isn’t scheduled for any nights the First Baptist Church was planning to hold an outdoor prayer vigil. Penalties: fines between $5 and $20 or 30 days in jail. Exceptions are made for innkeepers, grocers, and other businesses.

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No Gambling Near Church

RIGL 11-11-3

Gambling or horse racing within a mile of an outdoor religious meeting is illegal. Penalties: fines between $5 and $20 or 30 days in jail.

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No Theater Near Church

RIGL 11-11-3

Next time there’s a religious group meeting outdoors, resist the urge to exhibit or offer to exhibit a show or play within a mile of the meeting, or otherwise face fines between $5 and $20 and 30 days in prison.

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Swearing Is Illegal

RIGL 11-11-5

Profane swearing and cursing is illegal. There are no conditions in this law, which means next time you cuss out your gardener or a driver who cut you off, you had better hope no police officer is within earshot. Penalty: $5.

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RIGL 11-14-2

We’re not sure what a town sealer, corder of wood, or fence-viewer do, but if you know, resist the urge to impersonate them. Penalty: fine between $20 and $100.

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Organizational Insignia

RIGL 11-14-4

It’s against the law to wear the insignia of veteran groups and fraternal organizations without their permission. We’re sensitive to all the good these groups do, but should Johnny really be fined $100 for wearing his grandfather’s VFW jacket?

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Musician Impersonators

RIGL 11-14-5

We’re not sure what is so special about the American Federal of Musicians, but they have their own section of state law banning anyone from wearing or displaying their label or logo without permission. Penalty: $100 fine.

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Newsprint Not OK for Fish

RIGL 11-16-3

Remember the days when you got your fish wrapped in newspaper from your grocer? Well, he was violating state law and could have been slapped with a $20 fine each time.

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No Scheduled Fights

RIGL 11-12-6

It’s illegal to fight by appointment in Rhode Island. Our guess is this chapter of the law is directed against gangs, but there are no exceptions made for professional boxing matches or mixed martial arts fights. And what about two high-on-testosterone teenagers who arrange for a harmless bout after school? Penalties: $5,000 fine or 10 years in prison.

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No Surgeons at Fights

RIGL 11-12-7

If there is going to be a scheduled fight, having medical personnel there to minimize harm to life and limb seems reasonable. But it’s against state law for surgeons to attend scheduled fights. Penalties: $1,000 fine or five years in prison.

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Fighting out of State

RIGL 11-12-8

Leaving the state for an appointed fight is illegal. How the state plans on enforcing this is beyond us. Penalties: $5,000 fine or five years in prison.

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Illicit Tattoos

RIGL 11-21-3

Students who tattoo each other shall be guilty of the “crime of the degree of mayhem.” This applies to any student, not just bored teenagers, but presumably college and grad students would be liable too. Penalties: one to ten years in prison.

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Windmills by Highways

RIGL 11-22-4

Windmills cannot be built within 25 rods of any traveled street or road (a rod is about five yards). We haven’t seen any windmills in a while, but if this applies to wind turbines, some property owners along I-95 might be in trouble. Penalties: fine between $100 and $500.

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Sleighs on Highways

RIGL 11-22-9

Anyone with a wheel carriage, sled, or sleigh pulled by a team of horses cannot let the team go at large on a highway. We’re guessing that if someone does make it onto a highway with a sleigh, how you’re holding the reins is going to be the last thing the police are worried about. Penalties: $5.

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Highway Horsing Around

RIGL 11-22-11

Anyone who is driving a horse on a highway can’t race or test the speed of the horse. Penalty: $20 fine or 10 days in prison.

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Apponaug Bridge a No-No

RIGL 11-22-13

Next time you take a boat down the Apponaug River, steer clear of the bridge. It’s illegal to tie your boat to the bridge or unload wood or any other merchandise there. Penalty: $20 fine, half to Warwick and half to the aggrieved party.

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Canoes at Pawtuxet Bridge

RIGL 11-22-14

Tying a canoe to any of the abutments of the Pawtuxet Falls Bridge is illegal. Penalty: $5, half to Warwick and half to Cranston.

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No Stone Throwing

RIGL 11-22-14

Unless you’re aiming at someone tying his canoe to it, what is the harm in throwing stones off the Pawtuxet Falls Bridge? Someone over at the Statehouse apparently thought it was dangerous enough to warrant a law against it. Penalty: $5, half to Warwick and half to Cranston.

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Treason Against RI

RIGL 11-43-1

Levying war against Rhode Island or giving aid and comfort to its enemies is punishable by life in prison. Now we love our state, but this seems like a law better suited to 1776 or 1861. Most states still have treason laws, but we think it’s time to trust federal authorities to handle treason cases. (Rhode Island is actually one of the few states to every prosecute treason at the state level, during the Dorr Rebellion.)

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Weapons in Windows

RIGL 11-47-47

Whatever you think of guns, it’s hard to imagine anyone who would have a problem with a legal gun shop displaying pistols and revolvers in a storefront window, not to mention “daggers, dirks, bowie knives, metal buckles, and blackjacks”—all of which is illegal. Penalties: $25 for first offenses; $100 for subsequent offenses.

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Sworn Fish Packers

RIGL 21-15-14

It’s illegal to sell or export pickled fish that have not been approved by a sworn packer. Penalty: $50.

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Fresh Eggs

RIGL 21-17-6

It’s illegal to use the terms “fresh eggs,” “strictly fresh eggs,” “new-laid eggs,” unless the eggs are at least Rhode Island Consumer Grade A or better. We’re all for truth-in-advertising, but slapping a farm-stand owner with a $10 to $100 fine stinks.

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Fonts for Apple Boxes

RIGL 21-18-4

Boxes or other containers with apples must be marked in block letters with font that is not less than half an inch in height. Penalties: $25 for first offense; $100 or three months in prison for subsequent offenses.

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Baking Soda Inspectors

RIGL 21-26-1

Building and food inspectors are one thing. But we’re not sure why every city and town is allowed to appoint inspectors of saleratus and bicarbonate of soda (basically baking soda). Cream of tartar also falls under their purview.

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Impure Baking Soda

RIGL 21-26-4

Selling baking soda (technically saleratus and bicarbonate of soda) or cream of tartar that has been adulterated and is therefore impure is illegal. Penalty: $20, half to the town and half to the person suing over it.

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Bad Bedding

RIGL 23-26-27

We understand why there’s a state law against reselling bedding from hospitals without sterilizing it. But what about your next-door neighbor who decided to sell his futon without the proper tags? Calling it a misdemeanor and slapping him with a $500 fine or six months in prison doesn’t sit well with us.

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Working During War

RIGL 28-2-1

It’s hard enough to find work without having to worry about the police arresting you for being unemployed. But, hypothetically speaking, they could. Two things would need to happen: the United States would have to be at war and the Governor would have to issue a proclamation that everyone between the ages of 18 and 50 needed to be employed to support the war effort. Penalties: $100 or three months in prison. (This applies only to men.)

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Crackdown on Mufflers

RIGL 21-3.2-8

It is a misdemeanor to have an ATV or snowmobile with a muffler that makes a “sharp popping or crackling sound.” Penalties: $100 fine or 90 days in prison for first offense; fines go up to $500 after that. Violators also have to take a safety course and repeat offenders risk loss of their license.

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Felonious Car Work

RIGL 21-47-7

It is a felony to rebuild a car or other motor vehicle without a license. So if you’re working away on your favorite vintage gar in the garage, you face a $5,000 fine or two years in prison if you don’t stop.

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Mandatory Fences

RIGL 34-10-15

Good fences may make for good neighbors, but is making them a requirement good law? Some lawmakers apparently once thought so. Under state law, neglecting a fence on your property line, or refusing to rebuild it is illegal for a landowner. Penalty: reimbursing the angry neighbor who rebuilt it for you at double the cost. The penalty carries 12 percent interest annually.

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No Sunday Sports

RIGL 41-6-3

Football on Sundays is a sacred rite for many Americans, but anyone who wants to hold a professional sporting event in Rhode Island on Sunday needs a license. Exceptions are made for “ice polo” and hockey. Fortunately, we weren’t able to find any penalties for this one.

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No Sunday Salvaging

RIGL 42-14.2-16

Even if you have a license, an auto wrecking and salvage yard can’t operate on a Sunday. Penalties: $500 or one year in prison.

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Shipwreck Commissioners

RIGL 46-10-1

Last time we checked there isn’t such a thing as a “commissioner of wrecks and shipwrecked good” but every town on the coast is supposed to have one, except for Block Island.

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Shipwreck Notices

RIGL 46-10-8

One of the chief duties of a shipwreck commissioner (see previous slide) is to publish notices in the daily newspaper in Providence of a shipwreck so that the ship owner can claim his goods. But we’re betting that these days, if your boat crashes, you’re going to know about it before you read about it in the Providence Journal.

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Seaweed in Barrington

RIGL 46-11-1

Unless there’s some new hipster food fad we haven’t heard of, we’re not sure why state law allows Barrington residents to cart off only two loads of seaweed each day from their public beaches. Penalties: $10 per illicit load. Half goes to the town and half to the aggrieved party.

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No Seaweed Poaching

RIGL 46-11-2

We’re not sure what is so special about the seaweed on Barrington beaches, but only residents can take it. Out-of-towners are banned from carrying off the slimy green stuff. Penalties: $10 per illicit load: half to Barrington and half to the aggrieved party.

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Dumb laws to go

Want your own copy of Rhode Island's 50 Dumbest Laws in a handy chart?

Download the PDF of RI's Dumbest Laws, here. 


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