States make it `official' - from songs to salads and muffins

OFFICIAL legislative business sometimes involves granting special status to somebody or something. For instance, over the past 12 months legislatures in at least 23 states, from Vermont to Hawaii, have enacted measures adding to their lists of official symbols.

Last spring, Massachusetts, with no shortage of things so designated, made the New England Neptune its official seashell.

And if a Braintree businessman has his way, there may soon be an official patriotic song. His creation was inspired by a 1985 incident when a Randolph high school senior refused to stand and pledge allegiance to the flag. Bernard Davidson says his ``Massachusetts Because of You'' would be a reminder of the state's role in the nation's struggle for freedom.

Of course, the state already has three special songs, the latest being ``The Road to Boston,'' a forgettable tune of Revolutionary War vintage, which became the official marching song in 1984. Also on the books is an official state song, ``All Hail to Massachusetts,'' and an official folk song, ``Massachusetts.''

Having all but run out of things to make ``official,'' Bay State lawmakers have turned their trivial-pursuit sights in a different direction. They have created a new official of sorts, a ``state crier,'' presumably to perform at ceremonial functions.

Not to be outdone by Massachusetts, legislators in other states have been giving attention to lengthening their rosters of official things, ranging from rocks and foods to boats and reptiles.

Since last January the fiddle has become the official musical instrument of Missouri, milk the official beverage of North Carolina, the pink tomato the official vegetable in Arkansas, blue grama the official grass of Colorado, the American alligator the official reptile in Florida, and the bristle cone pine the official tree in Oregon.

Washington State has made ``Roll on Columbia'' its official song; Arkansas has designated ``Arkansas'' as its tune.

The California Assembly has approved official status for ``California I Love You.'' It's expected to come before the state Senate in the new year, and if approved there and signed into law by Gov. George Deukmejian, it would replace or share equal status with the more familiar ``California Here I Come.''

There is now an official pledge to the South Dakota flag. Oregon has changed its motto from ``The Union'' to ``She Flies With Her Own Wings.'' Michigan has changed its motto slightly: from ``If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you'' to ``If you seek pleasant peninsulas, look about you.'' A bill recognizing that the state has an upper and lower peninsula passed the House last spring. It is expected to be taken up by the state Senate in 1988.

Virginia lawmakers last winter set up a special commission to study a possible change in their state's official song from the familiar ``Carry Me Back To Old Virginia'' to some other tune.

So far no state has placed its ``official'' label on a salad. But that could change if Tennessee lawmakers approved a pending measure to make rampion salad first and foremost in their state.

New York last summer became the second state to recognize a bakery item. Not to be outdone by Massachusetts, which in 1986 made the corn muffin official, lawmakers in the Empire State conferred similar honors on the apple muffin.

That measure was the fruit of a fourth-grade class in North Syracuse. The children came up with the idea, and with the help and encouragement of their teacher they lobbied the proposal through the legislature, making several trips to Albany with dozens of home-baked apple muffins.

Special status for the corn muffin in Massachusetts also came through the initiative of an elementary school class, in Brookline.

Similar class projects have contributed mightily in several states to lengthening the lists of ``official'' things. And more may be on the way. While a citizen surely has the right to propose a law, it is questionable whether legislature time should be spent considering measures that at best are of marginal value.

There's a limit to how much legislation of this type can be, or should be, dealt with. Were only a small fraction of school classes to indulge in such ventures, valuable lawmaking hours could be frittered away on a near avalanche of bills.

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