Congress votes to strike ‘lunatic’ from federal laws

December 6, 2012

With precious few days remaining on the calendar, what is Congress doing to pass the time while top leaders and President Obama work to avert the “fiscal cliff?”

The House voted 397 to 1 Wednesday to give final approval to a bill that strikes the word “lunatic” from federal laws. The term, deemed offensive and outdated by mental health advocates, appears in laws permitting banks to act as a trustee, executor or administrator of the estates of the mentally disabled.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) was the lone “no” vote. Though he didn’t explicitly explain his decision, he alluded to his vote later in the day during a speech advocating the flat tax.

“To keep spending and not pay the price, that is immoral,” Gohmert said. “That’s why we shouldn’t eliminate the word ‘lunatic.’ It really has application around this town.”

“We want to eliminate the word ‘lunatic’ from the federal code?” he asked later. “That’s lunacy.”

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), a cosponsor of the bill. (Melina Mara — The Washington Post)

The bill, called the 21st Century Language Act of 2012, was introduced last spring by Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and easily passed the Senate.

“Federal law should reflect the 21st century understanding of mental illness and disease, and that the continued use of this pejorative term has no place in the U.S. Code,” Conrad said at the time.

More than three dozen mental-health advocacy groups backing the bill said that deleting the word “is a simple means of demonstrating respect for individuals living with mental health conditions and will have no effect on the underlying federal laws.”

Before Congress voted to eliminate “lunatic,” the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency confirmed that striking the word would have no affect on banking laws. 

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Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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Ed O'Keefe | December 5, 2012