PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island's gardeners, boxers and shameless swearers beware: you could be breaking the law and not even know it.
A law restricting the amount of seaweed Barrington residents can take from the public beach to use as fertilizer has been on the books for nearly 200 years. Since at least 1798 it's been illegal to arrange to meet another person and engage in a fight — a deed punishable by jail time of up to 10 years.
And drivers who pass another vehicle on the left are still supposed to give a "timely, audible signal" — an easing of the original 1916 law specifying that a bell or horn should be used.
A Rhode Island lawmaker wants to repeal these outdated laws and many others — a process that would happen every year if his proposal is passed.
Some of the laws aren't just archaic, they're unconstitutional and problematic, said House Majority Whip John Edwards.
Officials in the town of Smithfield decided in 2013 to enforce a law banning the distribution of anonymous negative campaign literature, despite a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down a similar law in Ohio and upheld the right to anonymous free speech.
The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state and the town. In October, a federal judge declared that the 91-year-old state law was unconstitutional.
The state and the town paid a total of about $4,500 for the ACLU's legal fees, according to ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown.
"Repealing these laws is not just an academic exercise," said Brown, who is urging lawmakers to pass Edwards' bill.
The proposal would create a joint committee within the General Assembly to review laws and recommend which ones are no longer needed. The legislature would consider the suggestions at the start of each new year, said Edwards, a Democrat.
Edwards got the idea from Kansas, which in 2011 established an office to identify laws and regulations that are out of date, unreasonable and burdensome. The office has proposed repealing about 175 statutes and roughly 75 have been abolished so far, said John Milburn, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Administration.
The office takes suggestions for laws to be stricken. A recurring request is to repeal the ban on marijuana, but that's not something the office has been willing to advocate for, Milburn said.
One of this year's recommendations is to repeal a statute enacted in 1917 that requires the Kansas Department of Transportation to review plans for large bridge projects. Milburn said it's unnecessary because licensed engineers now design the bridges.
Tennessee created an Office of the Repealer in 2013 to cut the size of state government.
Rhode Island State Librarian Thomas R. Evans compiled a list of the state's "strange but true" laws that are still in effect. Several involve livestock. One bars the sale of "spirituous or intoxicating liquors" near outdoor religious meetings.
The House Judiciary Committee recommended further studying the possibility of creating the joint committee of the repealer. A similar bill failed to gain traction in the previous two sessions.
"We're adding, adding, adding new laws every year. It's time to start reducing the laws that people have to comply with," Edwards said. "They're just burdensome."
One law still on the books in Rhode Island would be of particular note to anyone who gets busted for an antiquated offense (feeding garbage to swine without a permit, for example): Every person guilty of profane swearing and cursing shall be fined up to $5.