‘Mean’ or ‘common-sense’? Bill regulating adult-oriented businesses progresses

Published 2:32 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2024

A bill regulating “adult-oriented businesses” is one step closer to becoming law. 

After several changes were made, a House committee approved Senate Bill 147 Tuesday afternoon. Opponents have dubbed it an anti-drag bill, while supporters say it’s child protection legislation. 

The intent is to regulate an “unchecked industry” to avoid potential “adverse secondary effects” on Kentucky’s minors, said sponsor Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, R-Smithfield. 

What would SB147 do? 

Senate Bill 147 would prohibit “adult-oriented businesses” that distribute, display or host sexually explicit performances from being located within 933 feet – the length of an average city block – from a place where minors may be present.

Those locations include schools, parks, places of worship, recreational areas or any commercial establishment primarily dedicated to children’s entertainment.

Adult-oriented businesses include adult arcades, adult book or video stores, adult theaters, adult cabarets or “any establishment that regularly hosts any performance involving sexual conduct.”

While drag performances are not explicitly mentioned, adult cabarets include any nightclub, bar, restaurant or other commercial establishment that “predominantly” features performances “with explicitly sexual conduct in which a performer sings, lip syncs, dances, reads, or otherwise performs before an audience for entertainment while exhibiting an exaggerated gender expression that is inconsistent with the biological sex of the performer…”

Tichenor said that she included this language because drag performances have entered the public sector, and that she has sat down with drag performers to talk through the bill.

The bill also restricts what is visible to minors from the outside of adult-oriented businesses.

Businesses would be held liable for any violations, not performers. They may lose their licenses. The newest version of the bill includes a grandfather clause, allowing pre-existing adult-oriented businesses located within 933 feet of a place where minors may be present to continue operating.

The grandfather clause would still apply even if adult-oriented businesses are sold or their lease has to be renewed. 

However, local governments could further regulate adult-oriented businesses as they see fit.

A previous version of the bill allowed private citizens to sue, but the current version limits lawsuits to the Attorney General, commonwealth’s attorneys and county attorneys. 

‘Confused:’ Committee discusses SB147

Committee discussion revolved around the question of whether the bill’s purpose is to target the LGBTQ+ community or protect children.

SB147 is a “common-sense” bill with “reasonable regulations,” said David Walls, executive director of The Family Foundation, a Christian public policy organization. 

“Over the last several years here in Kentucky and across the nation, there’s been a growing concern about adult-oriented businesses and sexualized inappropriate performances targeting children on public property,” Walls said. “Many times, the events have taken place in public libraries, even schools and have been advertised as kid-friendly events.” 

Kate Miller, ACLU advocacy director, said that while the bill has improved from its original version, there are still a few definitions that may be too broad and capture unintended performances and materials that minors have a First Amendment right to access. 

Louisville attorney Bob Heleringer, a Republican and Fairness Campaign representative, was less generous. 

He said SB147 feels like a direct attack on drag performers, targets gay people and codifies bigotry. 

“You get to be prejudiced against gay people as an individual,” Heleringer said. “…We live in a free country and you could do that. But when you write it in the law, that’s different. That’s wrong.” 

He added that the bill would be hard to enforce, since certain definitions might be subjective. 

“Who’s gonna run around and talk about whether or not a gender expression is exaggerated? Whether a performance is inconsistent with the biological sex of the performer?” he asked. 

Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, disagreed with Heleringer’s assessment. He said the bill wasn’t about hating gay people or taking away anyone’s freedom. 

“Freedom is the ability to act within the boundaries that are set for society—boundaries that we all have to live inside,” Fugate said. “And when you go outside the boundaries, what I believe God’s word teaches us, is that we’re not living in freedom.” 

Fugate and other Republicans repeatedly said that Kentucky’s kids are being “confused,” primarily referring to gender expression. Fugate said this confusion is destroying the morals of the country.  

Rep. Rachel Roberts, D-Newport, expressed disappointment at attempts to “legislate morality.” It seems like a “mean” bill, she said. 

“It seems like we’re trying to target a specific group of people who are already marginalized,” Roberts said. “That we’re sort of taking away some of the fun and the color and the brightness of our communities.” 

SB147 will head to the House floor next.