Senate Republicans vote against bill that would limit on-campus drag shows

Three Republicans joined the lone Democrat on the committee to make it possible to kill the bill.
The South Dakota State Capitol and Capitol Lake at sunrise during the winter.
The South Dakota State Capitol and Capitol Lake at sunrise during the winter.(Austin Goss DNN/KOTA)
Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 10:38 AM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. - A bill aimed at preventing another on-campus, “kid friendly” drag show in public venues in South Dakota was defeated in the Senate Education committee Tuesday morning.

Senators Sydney Davis (R-Burbank), Kyle Schoenfish (R-Scotland), and Tim Reed (R-Brookings) joined the committee’s lone Democrat, Shawn Bordeaux of Mission, in a successful effort to defeat the bill.

Rep. Chris Karr (R-Sioux Falls) was the bill’s prime sponsor. Karr said that he discovered in conversations with the Board of Regents that they did not think they had the authority to prevent “lewd and lascivious” content on campuses, without legislative intervention.

“As a taxpayer in South Dakota, I am not sure I find this appropriate, nor do I want my tax dollars spent on this event,” Karr said, referring to the drag show held at South Dakota State University last year. “As a legislator, I feel that we have a responsibility to protect our students and our families.”

But public education lobbyists raised specific concerns about provisions of the bill that mentioned public schools. They argued that there was already a system in place to prevent events like the SDSU drag show from happening on campus, but Karr suggested it was important to include them in the bill so as not to create special carve outs.

“(Karr) had mentioned it doesn’t apply to plays, it doesn’t apply to musicals, or any of that. Then remove the public school districts from the bill,” said Diana Miller, a public education lobbyist.

Proponents argued that the bill would not inadvertently impact other events on public campuses in the state, because of a line the bill specified only events that “existed for the predominant purpose of appealing to a prurient interest” would be targeted. State law defines “prurient interest” in part as “a shameful or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion, which goes substantially beyond customary limits of candor in description or representation of such matters.”

But that argument did not stop lawmakers and other activists from suggesting the bill would unnecessarily effect free speech on campuses.

“I think we are getting to the point where the state decides all of this,” Reed said, in a motion to send the bill to the 41st day. “I disagree with taking some of these things and events away from them.”