Lawmaker surprised to discover law on dueling is still used

Rhode Island State House (WJAR File Photo)

A Rhode Island lawmaker tried to repeal a 200-year-old law about dueling because he figured no one would be prosecuted for that these days.

He was surprised to learn that a woman was recently charged with violating a section of the law for arranging a fight.

House Majority Whip John Edwards introduced dozens of bills to repeal old and unconstitutional laws in the legislative session that ended in June. Rhode Island still has a law to provide a tax exception for the sale of Bibles even though it states in the text of the law that it's unconstitutional, for example.

None of the bills passed both legislative chambers.

Like the dueling bill, some stalled because laws Edwards targeted were still used. But the Democratic representative also couldn't get enough lawmakers to support his efforts.

Democratic Rep. Robert Craven is on the Judiciary Committee, where many of the bills were held. Craven, a lawyer, said he likes the concept of repealing antiquated laws, particularly ones that are onerous for businesses.

But, he said, the committee was dealing with many substantive, time-consuming issues, including gun control, and Rhode Island has a part-time legislature.

"Those types of bills are sponges for the time we have," he said.

Edwards has tried for years to create a General Assembly committee to review laws and recommend ones to strike. That idea didn't gain traction in the House. This year he introduced bills to repeal old laws individually, an approach favored by the House speaker.

"Sometimes these things take a session or two and I'm extremely persistent," he said Tuesday.

Edwards picked some of the silliest laws to start with. The House passed his bills to repeal laws that restrict the amount of seaweed Barrington residents can take from the public beach to use as fertilizer and ban testing the speed of a horse on public highways.

Some of the old laws are amusing, but they can be problematic too, Edwards said.

Given the anti-immigrant rhetoric nationally, the state must repeal its law about the "Americanization" of schools, he said. It requires people between the ages of 16 and 21 who can't speak English to take classes or be fined.

"Rhode Island has always been a haven for immigrants," he said. "This just flies in the face of that."

The Senate didn't vote on any of the bills. Democratic Senate President Dominick Ruggerio thinks the best approach is to create the committee to review laws. The Senate passed a bill to create a joint committee but the House didn't.

Edwards said at least he learned this session which proposals are unpalatable.

A section of the dueling law prohibits arranging a fight. A North Providence woman pleaded no contest to aiding a fight by appointment for encouraging her daughter to fight another girl in November, according to the state attorney general's office.

Fishermen said they still use the grading system contained in a pickled fish law Edwards had proposed repealing, and divorce attorneys took issue with striking a law on adultery that provided for a fine. Edwards said he'll cull those out and reintroduce the ones that stand a good chance of passing next year.

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