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'Lunatic' soon to be banned from federal law

December 07, 2012

WASHINGTON -- Congress has voted to strike any reference to the word "lunatic" in federal law.

The measure, which is headed to President Obama for his expected signature, is intended to reduce the stigma of mental illness.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said during consideration of the bill this week that the term holds "a place in antiquity and should no longer have a prominent place in our U.S. Code.’’

The 21st Century Language Act, he added, "follows the precedence of Congress to study semantics and continuously improves the status and appropriateness of our nation's laws by addressing pejorative terms."

Congress in 2010 voted to replace the terms "mental retardation" and "mentally retarded" in federal law with "intellectual disability" and "individual with an intellectual disability."

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) cast the lone vote against the bill, passed by the House, 398-1.  

"Not only should we not eliminate the word 'lunatic' from federal law when the most pressing issue of the day is saving our country from bankruptcy, we should use the word to describe the people who want to continue with business as usual in Washington," he said.

Gohmert drew attention during a House GOP meeting last month when he nominated Newt Gingrich to be House speaker to replace John Boehner (R-Ohio) , though no one seconded the nomination. Gingrich no longer serves in Congress, but under the Constitution, the speaker does not have to be a current member of the House.

Bob Carolla, a spokesman of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said Gohmert was "entitled to his opinion. He probably didn't stop to think that he was insulting 58 million Americans who struggle with mental health problems in any given year. Whatever his frustrations may be with the budget debate, his comments were misdirected. Fortunately, he was an isolated voice."

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richard.simon@latimes.com

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