SD House Committee defeats bill targeting drag shows on college campuses

January 24, 2024

PIERRE – An effort to limit “lewd or lascivious” behavior on Board of Regents campuses in the state has failed to successfully navigate the
Legislature for the second year in a row.

The House State Affairs Committee defeated House Bill 1113 today (Wednesday) on a 7-4 vote. It was intended to prevent using state funds for certain conduct on South Dakota’s public campuses – specifically, drag shows.

However, it would not have applied to any public grade schools in the state.

“The bill doesn’t address K-12 schools,” said Rep. Chris Karr, the sponsor of a 2023 measure, 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. The similar bill that was defeated last year met its demise because of 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 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.

The Board of Regents did not testify Wednesday morning for or against House Bill 1113.

“I don’t know that this bill is necessary,” said House Speaker Hugh Bartels of Watertown. “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.”

The bill’s quick defeat earned compliments from progressives activists, who argued that if passed, the legislation would be in violation of the first amendment, and thus could 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.”