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Column: State lawmakers tackle strange issues

One of the network news programs has a regular feature called “The Fleecing of America,” in which they investigate ways in which your federal government wastes millions — sometimes billions — of tax dollars on projects that benefit either no one or only a few select members of the U.S. populace. This “fleecing” occurs on a regular basis in the form of localized pork projects, obscure grants and other creative methods of distributing your contributions to the U.S. Treasury.

But rest assured, the federal government has nothing on state legislatures when it comes to wasting money. Have you taken a look lately at what is going on in your own statehouse?

In Alabama, for instance, lawmakers have spent their time and your money — if you’re a citizen of the Yellowhammer State — debating such issues as the official state insect. Shall it be the Monarch butterfly or the honeybee?

And, though there already is a law forbidding gay marriage in the state, legislators spent a great deal of time and expense passing a constitutional amendment to the same effect. Of course, much grandstanding and moral posturing accompanied the introduction and passage of this particular piece of legislation. And it’s helpful to note here that this is the same outdated state constitution that scores of governors and legislators have refused to re-write, although it contains blatantly segregationist language.

All of this “law making,” by the way, is occurring while teachers in Alabama continue to use their own money to buy school supplies, and while large, out-of-state timber barons continue to pay the lowest property taxes in the nation.

Not to be outdone, just across the river in Georgia, members of that state’s General Assembly are taking on the twin issues of marriage and divorce. Lawmakers there are moving forward with a bill that extends the waiting time for an uncontested no-fault divorce from 30 days to 120 days for a couple with no children or grown children, and to 180 days for a couple with minor children. The pending bill also would require divorcing parents to enroll in classes that explain the repercussion of separation or divorce on kids.

Yes, it is well intentioned. But is such social engineering now the province of state legislatures? It isn’t surprising, of course, considering the current political climate. But it does seem inappropriate that such legislation should be a priority when schools are failing, roads are gridlocked, and rural economies are struggling.

But these issues take a back seat to another burning issue in Georgia, that of “noodling.” If you’ve never heard of noodling, you’re certainly not alone. Rep. Pete Warren (D-Augusta) had to explain his bill — which would legalize noodling in Georgia — to several members of the state’s house of representatives.

Noodling, as defined by the bill’s sponsor, is the art of wrestling a catfish out of its hiding place, with your bare hands. It’s also called grabbling, hand fishing or hogging, and it’s currently illegal in Georgia.

Warren’s bill actually amends a law that allows freshwater fish to be taken only with a pole, rod-and-reel or trotline. Noodling already is legal in 12 states, including neighboring Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina.

Explaining the practice to a colleague, Warren was quoted as saying, “You know, it’s what we would do when we were young’uns. We’d reach up in the creek bank and pull that catfish out.”

Noodling is a cultural thing, according to Wiley Prewitt of Oxford, Miss, and it’s apparently handed down from generation to generation. He has studied hunting and fishing traditions and is a consultant to the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi.

“It seems to be that you get introduced to it through your family,” says Pewitt. “It’s not the first thing you would think about, to get in the water and grab a fish with your bare hands.”

But it’s evidently being thought about in the halls of the Georgia state capitol, along with many other issues that’ll have no impact whatsoever on your quality of life.


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