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House committee passes 'drag performance' bill, amendment

by Will Langhorne | February 1, 2023 at 3:20 p.m.
Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, answers questions about Senate Bill 43 during the House Committee on City, County and Local Affairs meeting at the state Capitol in Little Rock on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. The bill would classify "drag performances" in Arkansas as an adult-oriented business. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

A bill that would define an "adult-oriented performance" passed a House panel in a voice vote, with audible dissent from Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday.

The House Committee on City, County, and Local Affairs also approved an amendment to Senate Bill 43, which previously aimed to classify a “drag performance” as an adult oriented-business.

Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, who presented the bill to the committee, said the amendment would keep the legislation from affecting age-appropriate plays and lip-syncing performances.

The intent of the bill, Bentley said, is not to target transgender people or theatrical performances, such as the Broadway production Tootsie, but to protect the innocence of children from sexually explicit shows.

"We're not trying to be anti-anybody," Bentley said.

Democratic lawmakers and opponents raised concerns that even with the amendment the bill could infringe on the rights of transgender people and limit the freedom of expression of artists. Legislators also noted state law currently includes statutes regulating displays of sexual-explicit material.

Under the approved amendment, the bill defines an “adult-oriented performance” as a performance that is “intended to appeal to the prurient interest and that features a person who appears in a state of nudity or is seminude; the purposeful exposure, whether complete or partial, a specific anatomical area; or prosthetic genitalia or breasts; or a specific sexual activity.”

The legislation would bar an “adult-oriented performance” from taking place on public property, admittance of any minor for attendance or being “funded in whole or in part with public funds.”

Senate Bill 43 was filed by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch. Last week, the bill passed in a party-line vote in the Senate.


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