There Oughta be a Law

What would YOU make illegal?

My sister sent a text the other day: “So it’s illegal to text while you walk in Philly?” False news evidently travels fast, and far: She lives in Tennessee.

I wrote back to her the same response that the Nutter administration has been scrambling to disseminate to the public over the past week: “Just a rumor that started after a confusing news report.” Only then—unlike the Nutter people—I tacked on an “Unfortunately.”

I really do wish it were true, that people who texted while walking were subject to a fine. And not just because I think it would behoove the citizens of Philadelphia (and the world) to just put down the freaking phones already and be where they are. (And seriously, as someone who has on many occasions texted while walking, I know firsthand that at best, it ends up in discourteous lolly-gagging and idiotic accidents on busy city sidewalks.) I also think it’d be great for the city to take the unpopular and controversial (but prudent) stance once in awhile—the kind that actually makes some sort of positive change happen, despite a little bitching at the outset. (Call it the Giuliani model?)

“I mean, deciding to take a stand on being a pro-green city is great and everything,” a colleague of mine recently commented, “but it wasn’t exactly groundbreaking.”

It’s a valid point. The Greenest City stuff is cool, but Nutter may as well have chosen to stand up for sunshine is nice, and also say that yes, that he is in favor of puppies and would be happy to vote for world peace. There’s something good and bracing and confidence-boosting about a leader who isn’t afraid to take on a little controversy, to go out on a limb to do something different and hard, just to see if it can move us all forward a little. (Perhaps the sugar tax, City Council?)

Maybe doing something sort of smart that also seems a little chancy could actually work in our favor, if we tried it. Maybe it could make us leaders, innovators, instead of just the squashers of crazy rumors about—gasp—fining certain public nuisances.

So yeah. I would totally back the texting-while-walking fine.

Additionally, I would support a law against spitting on the sidewalk (what is that, by the way?), and would cheer for big fat monetary penalties for those who yak away on their cell phones on the quiet car of the train. (Think that’s hardcore? A coworker of mine said he’d volunteer to pull on the black hood and work the guillotine for offenders.) I’d favor no-cigar-on-sidewalk fine; I’d support a return to helmet laws and also fines that go into the hundreds for littering.

I suspect each would be unpopular at first: The spitters would rally around their God-given Right to Spit; the train-talkers would no doubt cite the First Amendment; the non-helmet wearers would bemoan Philadelphia’s transformation into a police state.

(On the police state: I’m not suggesting jail time or public whippings or anything—although I might consider medieval-style stocks in Rittenhouse Square for that dude on Walnut Street whose spit once landed on my shoe. We’re just talking about fines, here, people.)

In the end, everyone would just get used to it—like we’ve gotten used to parking meters—and then Nutter could claim that he de-spittified the streets, quieted the train cars and saved countless heads from being smashed. It just takes a little guts up front.

That’s what I think, anyway.

Any new laws you guys think might be worth a little controversy, for the sake of a better Philly?