A bill introduced in the Assembly on Jan. 28 would purge the books of 19 outdated, superseded or invalidated statutes, including those governing private constables who track down "tramps" and allowing castration of runaway rams.
The measures listed in A-3726, sponsored by Peter Barnes III, D-Middlesex, are among about 60 identified in a March 2012 report by the Law Revision Commission report as candidates for elimination.
"Removal of some of these provisions serves the function of removing ambiguities from the law. Their retention can be deceptive," the report states.
Many laws proposed for elimination deal with public health. They include measures that:
• forbid use of public drinking cups;
• govern the involuntary commitment of typhoid carriers;
• limit acceptance by common carrier of people infected with communicable diseases; and
• prevent people with venereal diseases in an infectious stage from engaging in certain occupations or traveling without a permit.
Many of the laws harken back to a more agricultural society, such as the one requiring that rams be penned up during breeding season.
Three laws slated for expungment concern freely roaming livestock, for example.
Says one: "During the period from August twentieth to November first in any year, every ram shall be confined and kept within some inclosed pasture field or ground, secured by a fence so close and high as not to permit sheep to pass it.
"A ram which shall go over or break through the fence or inclosure of his owner, shall trespass upon the inclosure of another person, or shall run at large out of the inclosed pasture field or ground of the owner, may be taken by any person and castrated; or such person may impound the ram, for which the owner shall pay fifty cents," it continues.
Barnes’ bill also would eliminate antiquated measures governing prisoners, such as those that:
• set the maximum amount spent for feeding a county prisoner at 50 cents a day;
• allow workhouses to give less food to a prisoner who uses "indecent language or behavior or profane cursing or swearing, or is disobedient, stubborn, rude, refractory or abusive or is negligent or idle or does not perform his task properly," and
• require people imprisoned for debt to be housed separately from criminals.
The bill also calls for elimination of the Unfair Cigarette Sales Act of 1948, which was held unconstitutional by Lane Distributors Inc. v. Tilton, 7 N.J. 349 (1951).
The 1948 act, which was held unconstitutional because it fixed license fees based on arbitrary categories, was replaced by a new act correcting the defects, but the old one was never repealed, the commission report states.
Barnes’ bill also calls for eliminating laws governing county and municipal hospitals for communicable diseases, as well as laws governing privately owned toll roads, since such institutions no longer exist.
The report says the commission has not identified all anachronistic and superseded sections in the New Jersey statutes, and will continue issuing periodic reports on laws that should be repealed or amended.
Barnes’ bill was referred to the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee. He would like it to be sent to the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which he chairs.
He predicts the bill will find a sponsor in the Senate and will move easily through both houses.
"This is not going to be controversial, I’ll tell you right now," Barnes says.
The items in his bill represent only a third of the laws the commission targeted for elimination.
The selection was likely made by the Assembly Democratic staff that drafted the bill, says John Cannel, the commission’s executive director when the report was issued.
Cannel retired last October but continues working without a salary under the title of reviser of statutes.
"They put in the ones they could satisfy themselves, completely, quickly, accurately [that] were safe to remove," says Cannel.