Jan 23, 2023 - Politics

Lawmakers seek to restrict drag shows, make abortion homicide

Arkansas Capitol building. Photo: Don & Melinda Crawford/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

As we kick off the third week of the Legislature's session, here's a recap of happenings and bill movement at the state Capitol.

Driving the news: Senate Bill 43, which seeks to classify drag shows as an adult-only business — effectively outlawing the performances on public property or where minors might be — made it out of committee Thursday, meaning it's a step closer to passage.

What it means: Per the bill, a show must meet all three of the following criteria to be considered a "drag performance:"

  • Performers exhibiting a gender identity othe1r than what's assigned at birth, using clothing, makeup or accessories traditionally worn by the members of the performer's opposite gender;
  • Singing, lip-synching, dancing or otherwise performing before an audience for entertainment;
  • Intended to appeal to the prurient interest.

Of note: Adult-oriented businesses, such as strip clubs, cannot operate within 1,000 feet of a child care facility, park, place of worship, playground, public library, recreational area or facility, residence, school or walking trail.

  • Between the lines: That essentially leaves commercial areas such as retail, restaurants and bars.

What they're saying: The bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, said the measure aims to protect "innocent children." He added that the proposed law wouldn't ban theater performances in which performers dress in attire typically worn by the opposite gender because of the "prurient interest" — marked by, arousing or appealing to sexual desire — component, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

The other side: Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, says that, if passed, this law would violate the First Amendment right to freedom of expression, as well as the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

  • Opponents also say this bill incorrectly classifies drag as inherently sexual and discriminates against transgender people.
  • "Under the language of the bill, it seems like there could be no place for a trans person … to be allowed to perform in any way — karaoke, poetry readings, church choir, school plays, Pride events, the Miss Gay America pageant and other forms of artistic and free expression that are protected by the First Amendment," Dickson said, according to the Arkansas Advocate.

What's next: The bill is on the full Senate's schedule for Monday.

Zoom out:

  • HB1174, introduced last week, would allow a person to be prosecuted for getting an abortion. The current law punishes doctors who perform abortions, but there are no legal consequences for a person who has an abortion.
  • This bill seeks to treat abortion as homicide. The bill, like the current law, allows for medical procedures to save the life of the pregnant person or to treat ectopic pregnancies.
  • Rep. Wayne Long (R-Bradford), a sponsor of the bill, declined to comment to Axios.
  • Separately, SB81 would extend the state's criminal code guiding distribution of obscene materials to libraries.
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