Bill targeting drag shows on public campuses defeated for second year
Opponents cite existing policy, potential litigation as reasons to vote down bill
PIERRE – A revived effort to limit “lewd or lascivious” behavior on the state’s public university campuses failed to successfully navigate the Legislature for the second year in a row.
The House State Affairs Committee defeated HB 1113, which was intended to prevent using state funds for certain conduct on South Dakota’s Board of Regents campuses – specifically, drag shows.
Last year, the same committee passed broader, but similar legislation by an 11 to 1 vote. Rep. Carl Perry’s bill this year differed in that it did not have language in it to prevent such behavior on K-12 public campuses, like last year’s bill did.
“The bill doesn’t address K-12 schools,” said Rep. Chris Karr, the sponsor of the 2023 legislation who spoke in favor of this year’s version as well. “Last year we heard that there were no situations or issues there. I included it in the bill last year because I don’t know why it wouldn’t apply to all. Rep. Perry has a different take on it.”
Perry suggested that the choice not to include the state’s public schools was a product of the legislative process, and attempting to lay out a bill that could pass. Last year’s version was defeated in the Senate Education Committee over concerns about how content moderation would be handled on such a broad scale.
“One of the things that you do when you move into the legislative process, you evaluate whether or not something is meaningful to all, and whether everything included makes sense,” Perry explained. “This is a step in the right direction.”
But the bill’s narrower scope is what helped doom it. Skeptical lawmakers cited a policy adopted by the Board of Regents last year aimed at keeping people under the age of 18 from attending drag shows on campus. That came in the wake of a “kid-friendly” drag event on the campus of South Dakota State University.
The Board of Regents did not testify Wednesday morning for or against HB 1113.
“I don’t know that this bill is necessary,” said House Speaker Hugh Bartels. “I think the Board of Regents has adopted a policy that seems to be working. It is not going to do what the sponsor of the bill I think wants it to do (either).”
The bill’s quick defeat earned compliments from progressives and civil rights advocacy organizations, who argued that if passed, the legislation would curtail free speech and ultimately lead to litigation.
“It’s no secret that some of our elected officials in Pierre deeply disfavor anything they associate with the queer community, such as drag performances,” said Samantha Chapman, ACLU of South Dakota advocacy manager. “But when we’re talking about adhering to the First Amendment in the context of art and entertainment, defending free speech means tolerating some works that others might find lewd or lascivious.”