Samantha Chapman, of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, testifies in opposition to House Bill 1125 in the House State Affairs Committee on Feb. 13, 2023. (Makenzie Huber, South Dakota Searchlight)
PIERRE — The House State Affairs Committee tabled one bill that would limit drag performances in South Dakota but passed a related bill Monday morning.
The first bill, HB 1125, would expand obscenity laws to include drag shows and prohibit exposing children to such performances. The bill was tabled after a failed motion to pass it to the House floor, and a failed motion to defeat it by deferring it to the 41st day of the 38-day legislative session.
The second bill, HB 1116, would ban “lewd or lascivious” content at state institutions and public schools. The committee passed an amended version of the bill 11-1.
The bills are in response to a controversial drag show held on the South Dakota State University campus last year by a student organization that advertised the show as “kid friendly.” The Board of Regents began drafting a new policy after the controversy, and placed a moratorium on minors attending events hosted by student organizations on university campuses.
The failed HB 1125 was introduced by Rep. Scott Odenbach, R-Spearfish. While Odenbach said the bill would “restate what should be obvious,” enough legislators believed the bill was reactionary and too vague to pass.
Opponents argued the bill is an attack on freedom of expression and speech.
“It limits children’s ability to learn what freedom of expression is and to grow in their acceptance of people who are different from them,” said Garrett Satterly, a member of the public testifying in opposition to the bill.
The bill that was passed by the committee, HB 1116, was introduced by Rep. Chris Karr, R-Sioux Falls. The bill would ban state institutions and public schools from authorizing, expending public money or using any state-owned facility for “lewd and lascivious content.”
Such banned content includes obscene conduct that depicts sexual activity, nudity or “any physical human body activity” for sexual matters.
An amendment allows the Board of Regents to prohibit minors from attending any program or event.
Opponents to the bill included lobbyists representing the Associated School Boards of South Dakota and larger schools in the state.
Jessica Filler, lobbyist with the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, warned legislators the bill could have unintended consequences on events such as school performances and student dances.
Karr said the bill would not apply to events or performances that have literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
HB 1116 now heads to the House floor.
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