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Congress votes to strike ‘lunatic’ from federal law

Olivier Knox
The Ticket

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The U.S. Capitol (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Washington doesn't like "lunatics," but it seems fine with "idiots."

The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a Senate-passed bill striking the word "lunatic" from federal law, without removing a nearby reference to "idiot." The vote sends the legislation to President Barack Obama to be signed into law, removing what advocates consider an outdated, offensive term for mental illness from the United States Code.

The legislation, crafted by Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad and Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, sailed through the House on a 398-1 vote. The lone dissenter was Republican Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert. Thirty-two lawmakers did not vote. The bill had won unanimous approval in the Senate in May.

"This bipartisan legislation updates federal law by eliminating references that contribute to the stigmatization of mental health conditions," Conrad had said in a speech on the Senate floor about the 21st Century Language Act of 2012. The term has its roots in the belief that mental illness ebbed and flowed with the phases of the moon.

"Recently, a North Dakota constituent contacted my office to express support for legislative efforts to remove this outdated and inappropriate language from federal law," Conrad continued. "Sen. Crapo and I agree that 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."

The change enjoyed broad support from mental health advocacy organizations.

One of the affected sections of federal law currently reads: "The words 'insane' and 'insane person' and 'lunatic' shall include every idiot, lunatic, insane person, and person non compos mentis."

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