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Smile, or You're Under Arrest! : Pocatello Law Is No Laughing Matter to Droll Bankers

November 21, 1987|PETER TORMEY | United Press International

BOISE, Idaho — People going to Pocatello should be sure to wear a smile because it's illegal to frown, grimace, scowl and have any facial expression that reflects unfavorably upon the residents of the eastern Idaho town.

Those convicted of the ordinance, enacted in 1948, are required to go to the nearest "smileage station" and surrender a sufficient amount of smiles "and/or broad grins as are commensurate with his or her offense," the law reads.

"These actions reflect unfavorably upon the reputation of Pocatello, the friendly city, and are hereby declared illegal . . . and will be replaced immediately with happy, beaming, smiling countenances," the law states.

Idaho Atty. Gen. Jim Jones, who lives in Boise, said the law sounds like a good piece of legislation, but wonders--with tongue firmly planted in cheek--if it infringes upon constitutional rights of freedom of expression.

Serious Predicament

Jones said the question of whether the freedom of expression includes the freedom of facial expression is a legal quandary.

"What about the guy who is pleasant but temporarily has his lip turned down?" he asked.

"Or what about the guy with a crocodile grin who intends harm but is actually grinning. You get into the question that a smile in one person's opinion might not be a smile in another's."

Jones, whose smile stretched from ear to ear, said he thinks there should be grades of the offense.

"Some people have a hard enough time smiling, so by just getting their lips even they might personally consider it to be a smile," he quipped.

But Pocatello Mayor Dick Finlayson said the law is no laughing matter for offenders.

'We Shoot' Offenders

"We really enforce it," Finlayson said as he harbored a facial expression that bordered on a smile. "If we catch people, we shoot 'em."

Finlayson said he asked George Phillips, the city's mayor at the time the ordinance was enacted, what prompted the legislation.

Phillips told him that the city had just endured one of its worst winters ever, snow piled to the top of the stop signs, with frowns, scowls and grimaces being the predominant expressions all winter long.

"So in the spring Phillips said, 'We had such a bad winter, let's pass this law.' "

Finlayson said a few of the council members supported the law for a different reason.

"The story goes that the councilmen went down to the bank for a personal loan and the bankers scowled at them," Finlayson said. "So they said, 'Let's pass this law and make it illegal.' "

Finlayson said his office has been besieged with letters and telephone calls in the weeks since the existence of the ordinance was made public nationally in a full-page advertisement in Money Magazine last month.

Banking Industry

The ad, placed by the American Bankers Assn. based in Washington was titled "Ludicrous Laws" and condemns what it terms outdated laws that regulate the banking industry.

The City of Pocatello will proclaim the week of Dec. 1 "American Bankers and Pocatello Smile Week," Finlayson said.

Mark Olson, president of the American Bankers Assn., is scheduled to travel to Pocatello that week from Fergus Falls, Minn., to accept the key to the city, Finlayson said.

"We even had a psychology professor from Wayne State University, and professor from Syracuse University, call to request copies of the ordinance," Finlayson said.

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