Wisconsin is home to some fairly odd and unusual laws. The story of weird laws is always interesting because there are as many false stories about what is and isn’t illegal as there are true ones. For every law that is on the books, there were weeks or months of law writing, arguing and convincing for the law to actually get put on the books. Never forget that these laws are almost always in response to more than one situation in which the law would have been useful and that a number of people had to agree on the law in order for it to make it into the books.
But those aren’t the only head-scratching rules Wisconsinites have to follow. Here’s a list of 13 laws that aren’t exactly intuitive and might make law-breakers of all of us:
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1. The big flush.
Wisconsin Statutes Section 146.085 says the "owner or manager of any public building" may not allow "an admission fee to be charged for the use of any toilet compartment." Just a few sections later (Section 146.22), the law forbids the Department of Health Services from creating "any rules which either directly or indirectly prohibit the use of manual flushing devices for urinals. The department shall take steps to encourage the use of manual flushing devices for urinals."
2. No "annoying" sprinklers.
The entertainment in some of these laws for me is imaging the situation that led to the law being introduced in the first place. What kind of over-the-top sprinkler did someone have in order for Sheboygan to add City Code, Section 70-153 which states that "No persons shall, with purpose or intent, sprinkle their property in any manner to the distress or annoyance of others." Was the water going everywhere? Were the sprinklers noisy? Did someone flood out a neighbor? The possibilities on this one are hilariously endless.
3. "Highly pleasing" cheese and more.
Lots of folks focus in on the Wisconsin law that says cheese should be "highly pleasing," but that's actually only for AA Cheddar. B Cheddar only has to be "fairly pleasing." But the Wisconsin Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Rules surrounding cheese are way more odd. They don't define what makes cheese any form of pleasing, but they do define 18 terms for flavor characteristics of cheese and 20 for body and texture characteristics, all of which have further regulatory definitions.
4. Keep your wagon at home.
State statute 86.025 says you cannot camp in a wagon on a public highway. The statute also mentions tents, but seems to be ok if you're there in a truck, sedan or SUV. Wagons, however, are forbidden and you could be punished by a fine of up to $10. We don't care if your horse threw a shoe or you forded a river just to get there - we just want you gone.
5. Sorry kids, no fun here.
Wausau Municipal Code Chapter 9.08.020 states that "No person shall throw or shoot any object, arrow, stone, snowball or other missile or projectile, by hand or by any other means, at any other person or at, in or into any building, street, sidewalk, alley, highway, park, playground or other public place within the city." For a city that just had its snowiest month ever - 50+ inches in February - that just seems like the fun police!
6. Train congestion double-speak.
The concerning thing about this law is imagining the number of accidents that had to happen before a law was written trying to legislate train right of way. Unfortunately, the law is written in a way that makes everyone who reads it scratch their head. "Whenever two trains meet at an intersection of said tracks, neither shall proceed until the other has." No one can be quite sure with this wording, but it seems like one train is being told not to run into another one and that this needed to be legislated is disconcerting to say the least.
7. What exactly is "offensive looking" anyway?
An old Milwaukee law that was meant to cut down on vagabonds still exists and says that "offensive looking" folks can't be in public during the day. It's pretty subjective, pretty offensive and more than a bit discriminatory.
8. Make way for piggy.
In Wisconsin, drivers have to yield right of way to livestock on public roads thanks to statute 346.21. The statute also mentions that whomever is leading the livestock drive shall use reasonable care for vehicular traffic, but still, Bessie the cow, Porky pig and Rudy the rooster all have the right to cross the road.
9. Your cheatin' heart.
According to state Statute 944.16, adultery is a Class I Felony punishable by $10,000 and three years in jail. This one's been on the books since 1849, but that doesn't make it any less relevant. Not sure if adultery was rampant or if the legislature was just trying to get ahead of the problem, but the severity of the law was meant to be discouraging.
10. St. Croix hates the Badgers.
Listen, I get that it's 200 miles closer to Minneapolis than Madison, but it's still in Wisconsin and not Gopher territory, so St. Croix's ban on women in the color red seems like a full-on Badger attack!
11. Dog tired.
It's illegal to harass a seeing-eye dog and while that seems like a no-brainer, think about how often folks gush over service dogs in public even when the dog is wearing a vest that says they're working and shouldn't be petted. You might not think your urge to pet the dog is a nuisance, but guaranteed the person who needs that dog does.
12. Sleeping on the job.
In Racine, it's illegal to wake up a firefighter when they're sleeping. So please go ahead and plan your fire emergencies accordingly. I'm sure this came from folks waking them at all hours for non-emergencies, but with as meticulously as some of our laws are rewritten, it's ridiculous that this one is so vague.
13. Check, mate?
Finding parks with chess or checkers tables and places with giant outdoor checkers games is pretty easy these days, but be careful taking advantage in Racine. It’s illegal to play checkers in public, because it’s also illegal to say "king me." Here's another one where it would be awesome to know what went on to lead to the need for this law - were folks walking around pretending to be royalty? Regardless, you'll have to come up with some code for when it's time to double-up your playing piece in Racine.
What is your favorite “I can’t believe that’s illegal” Wisconsin law? Did reading this list inform you that you’ve actually broken the law? Let us know in the comments!