Why Is Dredging Oysters at Night a Felony, Anyway?

You probably didn't know that, in Texas, lying in a fishing tournament is a punishable offense that can land you in jail for a year.

You probably didn't know that because you're a generally honest person, you don't fish competitively, or you aren't Texas Representative Steve Toth, who tried once and for all how to codify obscure offenses that lay outside the Texas Penal Code. Think of it as silly laws meeting a silly legislative bill in a perfect storm of utter silliness. The bill was DOA. Now a dude at the Texas Public Policy Foundation wants Toth to revive it.

Toth's bill would have established "a temporary and volunteer commission to re-examine the non-traditional criminal offenses in state law," according to the Texas Public Policy Foundation's impressively named senior policy analyst, Vikrant P. Reddy, Esq.

Tragically, the bill died, leaving ordinary Texans vulnerable to laws penalizing the thrashing of pecan trees (3 months in jail); "mislabeling a container of citrus fruit" (180 days in jail); or "using the name of a credit union without including the words 'credit union'" (one year).

Reddy mourns the lack of a commission that would have determined whether some 1,500 non-traditional offenses -- some of which we've recently examined -- should be moved from the hinterlands of the Parks or Agricultural codes into the Penal Code, or if they should be abolished outright.

"The legislation would have been an important tool for fighting overcriminalization in Texas," Reddy writes. He also highlights the disproportionate penalties for certain offenses -- such as how "dredging for oysters at night can be a felony, but hiding a human corpse is a mere misdemeanor." (One way to bridge this disparity might be to make it a felony to hide a human corpse at night).

Which begs the question: is the state's prison system bursting at the seams with inmates doing time for illegally removing pecans from trees? Are prosecutors overzealously continually convening grand juries in the wake of hotly contested bouts of catfish noodling?

We understand that these offenses are ridiculous, but so is creating yet another commission -- especially one that, per Toth's bill, would have included representatives of "relevant business interests." Unlike Reddy, we shudder at the thought of the state's penal code being influenced in any way by business concerns. After all, what if Big Citrus isn't content with merely controlling how fruit jars are labeled -- what if they come after our children next?

However, we'd be all for any legislation that would create a volunteer commission to examine whether Toth should be allowed to submit any other bills, like his recent attempts to form three municipal utility districts in Montgomery County. Evidently, Toth thinks Texas needs more taxing entities with "limited power" of eminent domain.

That would be a bill we could get behind.


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