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Breaking the law

Old city codes make criminals out of unsuspecting residents

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Signature sporting event or mass criminal demonstration? It all depends on some long-ignored passages in the Boise City Code.

Turns out that for the past 20 years, one of Boise's pre-eminent events, the Twilight Criterium, has actually been made up of a high-speed, two-wheeled mob of law breakers under Section 6-01-06 of the city's code, which has outlawed bicycle races in the streets of Boise since 1922.

"It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in, or cause to be engaged in, any bicycle race within the Corporate Limits; providing, that road races may be run under the supervision and direction of the Chief of Police," reads the decidedly dated passage.

But bike fans can rest easy. The ordinance, along with numerous other head-scratching regulations, was repealed by the Boise City Council last fall as part of an ongoing effort to clean up the code book.

"It's been a very interesting process," said Alison Tate, public safety division manager at the Boise City Attorney's Office.

Among some of the other odd highlights: Hypnotists were illegal, throwing confetti was a punishable offence, circus or carnival workers were not allowed to cheat the public, lewd cohabitation was a big no-no, and heaven help you if you had an unlicensed dog and pony show. Updating city code was one of the earliest directives given to the City Attorney's Office when Mayor Dave Bieter took office in 2003. Since then, attorneys have been methodically combing through hundreds of pages of code, looking for the outdated, wrong and downright unconstitutional. Tate said the city is about halfway through the project, and she expects it will be finished within a year.

"It shows you what was important in that day," said Tate as she flipped through a dense book of city codes.

Many of the strangest entries date from 1922, when there was an apparent need to write a whole lot of regulations.

"It was a time of real loose morals and also a time of androgyny, when women looked like men and men looked like women," said Todd Shallat, director of the Center for Idaho History and Politics.

While the roaring '20s are best remembered for flappers turning up their heels in backroom gin joints, the backlash to this kind of scandalous behavior is still found in city code.

"It was a real threat to some," Shallat said. "There was a big morality movement."

No one is exactly sure where the ban on bike racing came from, although Shallat speculates it may be an after-effect of the mass bike/pedestrian collisions when bicycles were first introduced in the 1890s. "There was a lot of concern over bicycles for a bunch of different reasons," he said.

Mike Cooley, Twilight Criterium race director, thinks it may have stemmed from the international popularity of bicycle racing in the 1920s. "It was one of the most popular sports in the world," he said. "Maybe they got after it."

Cooley admits that he's never seen Boise Police Chief Michael Masterson at any of the recent races, but is careful to add that the event does have a city permit approved by the police department.

Police Spokesperson Lynn Hightower confirmed that Chief Masterson hasn't presided over any Criterium races recently.

At the same time the bike-race ban was repealed in late August 2006, so were sections regulating opium dens and hypnotists.

Apparently, roving bands of hypnotists were a big issue in the '20s. The entry reads in part, "It shall be unlawful for any person to display on the streets or other public places ... any person in a hypnotic or pretend hypnotic sleep, ... or in any condition in any way simulating death, under the control or pretend control of any person claiming to exercise a hypnotic, psychic, mesmeric or supernatural power."

And just to make sure no one slipped through the cracks, it was also illegal to allow yourself to be hypnotized.

Most of us have heard of living in sin, but in Boise, unwed couples living together was outright illegal. Until recently, city code outlawed an unmarried man and woman from living together, as well as to "lewdly and notoriously associate together."

Of course, living together wasn't the only morally reprehensible crime. Gambling and pretty much any game that involved cards or dice were banned from Boise in 1922. Among those off-limits games were faro, monte, roulette, landsquenet, rouge et noir and rondo.

Shallat explained that gambling--along with a thriving red-light district that once stood where City Hall is now located--was pushed out of Boise. But it found a home in Garden City, where it flourished until 1949, along with a host of other shady practices. "Garden City became one of the best places in the country to get quickie divorces," Shallat said.

One of the biggest moral blights was apparently bucket shops. Of course, what a bucket shop was is still a bit unclear, although it is spelled out in blindlingly fuzzy detail in a 343-word run-on sentence. While no one at the City Attorney's Office knew quite what it was, Shirl Boyce, development director of Boise State University's School of Applied Science, remembered the term from his own college readings.

Apparently, a bucket shop was a stockbrokerage scam operation, where orders from clients were tossed into a bucket and sorted out at the end of the day in a way that brought the greatest profit to the shop. These businesses were wiped out after the 1929 stock market crash.

These aged laws aren't only about maintaining morality in the city, some are aimed at keeping Boise epidemic-free. According to Section 8-06-02 of city code, any home where "there exists scarlet fever, yellow fever, smallpox, diphtheria, membranous croup, bubonic plague, cerebral spinal meningitis, cholera, typhus fever, typhoid fever, measles, whooping cough or chicken pox," was required to place placards listing the disease at all entrances.

The code is very specific as to the look of the placard as well. "A card twelve inches (12") in length by eight inches (8") in width upon which is printed in plain black letters at least three inches (3") in height the name of the disease which exists therein."

These placards were required to be displayed for between 14 and 21 days, depending on the disease. Unless, of course, the patient died, in which case the sign only had to be posted for a week.

No offence, though, quite matched the horror of throwing confetti, a misdemeanor since 1922. Section 6-01-28 of Boise City Code reads, "It shall be unlawful for any person on the streets or in any public places, to throw upon any person confetti, or other material of a similar nature; provided, however, that the Council may in its discretion, by resolution suspend the provisions of this Section permitting the throwing of confetti only for limited periods during carnivals, fairs, chautauquas or other occasions of like character."

But, rest easy Boise, this section of code is no more.

"We don't regulate throwing confetti anymore," Tate said. "So you can throw confetti wildly."

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