Every year in the state houses of America, elected representatives outdo some of the top comics in Vegas with original routines that leave the electorate laughing. A few of the jokes are even intentional.
In this year's legislative funnies, for instance, California debated the sexual proclivities of the banana slug as the State Mollusk, Oklahoma adopted the ribeye steak as the State Meal, and the Pennsylvania House unanimously decided the long extinct trilobite should be the State Fossil.Lawmakers in Tennessee and Louisiana kept eyeing bumper stickers, trying to decide the difference between the obscene (illegal) and the merely distasteful (legal, but you better watch your step boy).
In Washington state, ego crushing was in order.
When noted artist Jacob Lawrence appeared before a special arts committee to outline his $300,000 proposal for a mosaic tile masterpiece in the Capitol Rotunda, the first question he was asked was: "How hard will it be to take down?"
Obscenity seemed to be the most compelling issue.
Louisiana lawmakers tried twice to ban or severely restrict patently obscene words on bumper stickers. The Legislature passed both bills, but Gov. Buddy Roemer also vetoed both.
In Tennessee, however, similar legislation sailed into law. Therefore, "stuff" no longer happens on bumper stickers in the state, and if it does, the fine is between $2 and $50.
Tennessee Attorney General Michael Cody is suspicious of the law, saying that while those nasty stickers are "unquestionably in extremely poor taste," they do not meet constitutional or statutory standards of obscenity.
Profanity also was on the minds of Alabama lawmakers, who sought to ban dirty words from their legislative debates. They formed a "cussin' committee" to decide just which invectives they shouldn't be allowed to hurl.
That only led to trouble.
While Alabama lawmakers had no problem cussin' out each other down on the floor, they didn't want to be caught dead uttering nasty words in committee. So, they did nothing.
Virginia brags it is the "Mother of Presidents," but this year its Legislature was more concerned about potty parity.
Armed with a Virginia Tech University study that showed lines to women's restrooms were longer than at the men's, members pushed for changes in building codes to force businesses to have more toilets for females. Lawmakers stopped short of going along with the request, instead deciding to study the issue for a year.
One of the more curious, and surprisingly controversial, issues in California was deciding what the State Mollusk should be.
Assemblyman Byron Sher thought the banana slug would be a good choice, since it has both male and female sexual organs, inhabits redwood forests and eats poison ivy.
The bill had trouble in committee, where the chairman placed a box of slug and snail killer in front of him during debate and the measure quickly turned into a tug-of-war between Democrats and Republicans.
Democrats supported the slug. Republicans, however, lined up behind abalone. Trice Harvey, an assemblyman from Bakersfield, argued "the banana slug is a bisexual pervert. The abalone is straight. That's important."
Despite that argument, the House sided with the slug and sent the bill to the Senate. The upper chamber reluctantly accepted it and the slug bill is now on its way to the governor's office for a signature.
New Yorkers, however, showing they know how to take a joke, selected the "Argopecten irradians" as its State Mollusk after its sponsor said the bay scallop outshined better-known bivalves, like the "pretty basic" clam and the "pretty repulsive" oyster shell.
Although extinct for millions of years, the trilobite made a comeback in Pennsylvania where the House voted unanimously to make it the official State Fossil. The measure was pushed by a group of elementary school students, one of whom told a committee it was selected "because it looks like the head of Darth Vader," the villain of "Star Wars" fame.
Washington state's great art debate - or, more specifically, how to adorn the Capitol - has been going on since 1981.
Two years ago, long before Lawrence showed up with his mosaics proposal, legislators argued about how to remove otherwise acclaimed artworks from the House and Senate chambers because members considered one obscene and the other too modernistic.
So while nobody wanted Lawrence to take personally questions on how hard it would be to take down his display, they also wanted him to know that nothing is permanent in government.
Back in Louisiana, legislators heard testimony that cockfighting "is our horse racing," and killed several bills that would have outlawed the sport. The lawmakers also found time to create the new crime of "prostitution on a public highway."
The highway hooker bill was prompted by businessmen on Airline Highway in New Orleans who said prostitutes were becoming more and more bold along the seedy strip of by-the-hour motels.
Not incidentally, Airline Highway was where disgraced evangelist Jimmy Swaggart met regularly with a hooker. The legislation was immediately dubbed the "Jimmy Swaggart Airline Highway to Heaven" bill.
During debate in the House, several lawmakers said the problem with highway hookers was not just in New Orleans, but was rampant statewide.
That brought a harrumph from Rep. Charles Herring, who had earlier tried to outlaw cockfighting.
Herring's harrumph, however, was met with another one from Rep. Carl Gunter.
"Hell, how would you know if you have a problem?" Gunter chided Herring. "Didn't you author that cockfighting bill? You don't even own a rooster."
With the power of such eloquent reasoning, the prostitution bill cruised into law.