AUSTIN – A bill billed as a way to ban children from drag shows will no longer include language specifically aimed at performers who dress as the opposite sex, The Dallas Morning News He learned.
Senate Bill 12 would ban anyone under the age of 18 from attending “sexually oriented” events and would open performers to criminal penalties. However, the North Texas legislature tasked with guiding the bill through the House decided to remove language that would specifically target performing artists such as the opposite sex.
The news obtained a draft of the new version of the bill that will be discussed Wednesday in the House State Affairs Committee.
Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, confirmed the draft is accurate.
“How the individual is dressed is totally irrelevant,” said Shaheen. “Whether it’s a man in a suit or a man in a suit, it doesn’t matter. I don’t want sexual and obscene conduct in front of a child.
When asked if a drag performer who is reading a book or singing a song might do so appropriately in front of a minor, he replied, “As long as it’s not in a sexual and obscene way.”
A judge appointed by former President Donald Trump recently suspended a similar law passed in Tennessee for being unclear, too expansive and potentially discriminatory.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker warned the law could be unconstitutional if the state can’t provide a compelling argument for why it needs to specifically regulate the expression of drag queens.
“A regulation that prohibits obscenity performed by entertainers such as topless dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators, but not others, could be a content-based regulation that deserves strict scrutiny,” he wrote.
Senator Bryan Hughes, the bill’s author, did not respond to requests for comment on whether he supports the change. Shaheen said his conversations with the Senate are “ongoing.” For the bill to become law, the Senate would need to approve any changes made by the House.
Hughes, R-Mineola, specifically mentioned his belief in regulating drag performing during the Senate bill’s debate.
“Drag shows are sexually explicit and expose children to issues of sexuality and identity that should be reserved for adults,” Hughes said on March 23.
Hughes also authored a bill to ban public funds from city libraries that hold so-called drag story times for children. That legislation has not advanced in the House.
The version of Senate Bill 12 to be debated Wednesday keeps in effect a definition of “sexual conduct” that criminalizes acts such as grabbing or pretending to grab someone by the butt or dirty dancing in front of a minor. The behavior is also prohibited on “public property at a time, place, and manner that might reasonably be expected to be seen by a child.”
The news asked three attorneys specializing in government regulation and constitutional law to review the bill: David Coale of Dallas, William X. King of Houston and Brian Owsley, a University of North Texas professor at the Dallas College of Law. They said anything from bachelorette parties to LGBTQ pride parades could be involved in the bill’s definition of criminal acts, even if there aren’t actually minors.
Scofflaws could be jailed for up to a year, hit with a $4,000 fine, or both. Companies that condone such behavior could face a $10,000 civil fine. Enforcement would rest with local prosecutors, meaning whether or not someone is arrested would depend on the decisions of the law enforcement agencies where the alleged crime occurred and the state attorney general.
Shaheen said she supported the bill’s definition of sexual conduct.
“I am willing to fight this in court. Anyone who thinks it is appropriate to behave in the way sexual conduct is defined in the bill, I strongly disagree with,” she said.
Shaheen said he anticipates heated debate on the bill on Wednesday: “It’s going to be a long day and I’ll be drinking a lot of coffee.”