A Helena ordinance makes it illegal to play “folf” (the term for Frisbee golf) at night. If you think I’m making this up, it’s Helena Municipal Code Title 5, Chapter 13. Why do weird laws like this exist and why aren’t they cleared off the books?

Politicians and apathy.

Politicians are eager to solve problems for voters. In the Helena example, presumably some local residents were annoyed at people playing “folf” at night so they said, “There ought to be a law.” Their elected representatives took action. I remember a state Senator who had a voter in his district killed by a pellet gun (not sure how that’s possible, but that’s what happened). The Senator told a friend of mine, who was the attorney for the Senate, “Draft me a bill that makes it a crime to murder someone with a pellet gun.” My friend replied, “Senator, it’s already against the law to murder someone.” The pellet-gun law was not introduced, but you can see how weird laws can happen. Sometimes politicians are too responsive to the electorate.

Apathy is the other reason why weird laws stay on the books. No one really has the time and energy to repeal silly laws or ones that are no longer needed. It often takes an organized group to get anything done with government. In the folf example, it would take the Helena folf players getting together and lobbying for the repeal of the ordinance. If there’s no one that is substantially impacted – and not playing folf at night is not the end of the world – then no one has an incentive to spend the time and money to repeal a weird law.

I think it would be great if the Montana Legislature and local governments periodically reviewed their laws and repealed the weird ones. But they’re often too busy protecting us from … folf.