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Iceland’s Most Frivolous Legislation: The Laws That Would Have Been, But Weren’t

Iceland’s Most Frivolous Legislation: The Laws That Would Have Been, But Weren’t

Photos by
Art Bicnick

Published October 5, 2017

A lot of people think of parliament as a super serious place where super serious ideas are debated. This isn’t really entirely so. Most of the debating happens in closed committees, and the MPs you see grandstanding and shouting from behind the pulpit are more than likely just repeating the same stuff they already said in committee. But also, not every piece of legislation submitted is entirely serious.

You might not be able to vote, but if you live here, you probably still pay taxes. So it might interest you to know some of the more frivolous ways your hard-earned money has been spent within the hallowed halls of Icelandic parliament.

1. Selling booze in stores
Who proposed it?: The Independence Party
What did it propose?: Ending the state monopoly on the retail sale of alcoholic beverages. This would mean that, instead of having to locate the nearest ÁTVR store and hope it’s still open, you could just pop down to your neighbourhood grocery store or corner shop and buy your beer.
What happened?: On the Monday after the nation’s financial sector collapsed, the Independence Party—which was leading the government at the time—decided this bill should remain the first order of business to discuss when parliament convened that day. This level of denial so enraged the public that protests ensued, and the rest is history. To this day, the Independence Party still clings to this idea, but it has been forever poisoned by the awful timing of when it was first introduced.

2. Turning the clock back in the winter
Who proposed it?: Bright Future
What did it propose?: Setting the clock back one hour in the autumn and conversely setting it forward an hour in the spring. This is common practice across Europe; in fact, Iceland, Belarus and Russia are the only European countries who don’t do it.
What happened?: Apparently people have very strong feelings about turning the clock back. Doctors, teachers, businessmen and sleep experts all weighed in on the subject, but Bright Future became a lightning rod for scorn and ridicule because of it. The bill withered on the vine and died.

3. Treating vaping like smoking
Who proposed it?: Bright Future
What did it propose?: Largely applying the same laws Iceland has about tobacco use to vaping, including banning it in cafés, restaurants, bars, schools and workplaces. It also proposed regulating the strength and volume of vape fluid.
What happened?: Objections arose within parliament at the false equivalence made between cigarette smoke and e-cigarette vapour, and vape store owners insisted this would merely create a black market of vape fluid. And as with the Independence Party’s debacle with their alcohol bill, timing was everything—the bill was proposed by then-Minister of Health Óttarr Proppé, at a time when public unrest over the shabby state of the health care system was rising. The bill was largely seen as maybe not the most pressing health care matter facing Iceland, and it was quietly defeated.

4. Making it legal to kill Basque people
Who proposed it?: Sheriff Ari Magnússon (1571-1652)
What did it propose?: That you could literally murder any Basque people you encountered. This particular piece of xenophobia applied primarily to the West Fjords, but was conceivably applicable to the whole country. It was initiated after Basque sailors ran aground in the West Fjörds in 1615. At least 32 Basque sailors were murdered.
What happened?: While Basque-hunting never caught on, amazingly this statute was not formally rescinded until 2015. Most charming of all, the statute was laid to rest in the West Fjörds, with a formal “reconciliation ceremony” between a descendent of one of the murdered Basque sailors, and a descendent of one of the murderers. Basque people are now free to visit Iceland without fear of being singled out.

5. The Porn Internet Wall
Who proposed it?: Former Minister of the Interior, Ögmundur Jónasson of the Left-Greens
What did it propose?: The production and distribution of pornography was already illegal in Iceland, but this law was written before the advent of the Internet. In 2013, a Ministry workgroup began to seriously examine the idea of creating a kind of “porn firewall” around the country, which would block traffic to and from porn sites. You can probably imagine some of the practical complications that would arise from implementing this.
What happened?: The sheer volume of porn on the Internet, coupled with the existence of proxy services and VPNs, already made this idea unworkable in a practical sense. As well intended as it might have been, the proposal was also met with fierce resistance from free speech advocates. Ultimately, the proposal was scattered to the winds.


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