LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A bill colloquially called the “drag bill” by Arkansas politicos will advance to the House next week without much of the controversial language initially included. No references to drag are left in the bill.
SB43, sponsored by Republicans Gary Stubblefield and Mary Bentley, was intended to limit where drag performances can happen and who can view them. After an amendment this week, the bill no longer includes the term “drag,” and language defining a performance as singing, lip synching and dancing was also struck.
Bentley said this makes the bill more legally sound.
“We don’t want to just pass a flashy bill,” Bentley said. “We want to make sure it’s going to hold up in court, because we really want to protect children.”
Bentley said the changes were made after coordination with Attorney General Tim Griffin. She said many Arkansans were concerned the initial language could restrict artistic performances.
“There was a lot of confusion,” Bentley said. “A lot of my colleagues got emails from friends saying we’re stopping theater at school, and we’re stopping Peter Pan, and we’re stopping Mrs. Doubtfire or Tootsie. That was not the intent of the bill.”
University of Arkansas Law Professor Matt Bender said this bill is now essentially a duplicate of what is already in Arkansas code. The new language said sexualized performances cannot take place on public property, in front of kids or be funded by the state. Bender said this is already addressed by law.
“People can’t do [those things],” Bender said. “We already have obscenity laws. We have regulations on things like strip clubs and what’s legally adult material.”
Bender said there is a “culture war” stigma attached to this bill, and he understands some might feel targeted just by its initial filing. He said this bill will have little impact.
“That’s a reason to take a breath,” Bender said. “It would be a piece of legislation without any effect.”
Bentley said she thinks this bill will still protect children even if it looks much different.
“We’re not trying to be mean or hateful, just trying to protect our kids,” Bentley said.
The bill will likely go before the full House on Monday.