Bill raising penalties for admitting kids into adult live performances prepped for final passage
Florida Politics | By Jesse Scheckner | April 18, 2023
‘There is evil in the world, and we face it here today.’
House Republicans rejected more than half a dozen amendments of varying seriousness to a bill steepening punishments for letting minors watch “lewd” live shows. That legislation is now prepared to pass Wednesday.
The five-page measure (SB 1438) includes no mention of drag or burlesque shows, but its inspiration came from outrage over those performances and others that “target children,” said Palm Bay Republican Rep. Randy Fine.
Fine sponsored an identical House version of the bill, which he tabled in favor of the one Jacksonville Republican Sen. Clay Yarborough carried in the Senate. The Senate version passed by a 28-12 party-line vote last week.
“There is evil in the world, and we face it here today,” Fine said while introducing the bill.
Titled “Protection of Children,” the bill would authorize state government officials within the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) to suspend or revoke the liquor license of any hotel, motel, restaurant, bar or similar establishment that knowingly admits minors to a live, adult performance.
The bill defines such performance as “any show, exhibition, or other presentation in front of a live audience which, in whole or in part, depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or specific sexual activities as those terms are defined” in existing state law.
That includes “lewd conduct, or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts,” shows meant to appeal to “prurient, shameful, or morbid interests,” and displays that are patently offensive and “without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for the age of the child present.”
A person who admits a child to such a performance, as the bill defines it, would face a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and a year in prison.
The business hosting the event could lose its liquor license, and the DBPR’s Division of Hotels and Restaurants could fine it $5,000 for the first offense and $10,000 for each violation after.
SB 1438 faced a barrage of challenges Tuesday from House Democrats. Fine responded with increasing impatience and condescension while reiterating several times that the bill does nothing to restrict adult live performances for adult audiences.
“Not only would I not vote for a bill that does that, I wouldn’t sponsor one,” he said.
Asked at one point why new restrictions are needed there is already a decades-old state statute (847.013) setting forth prohibitions and penalties for exposing youths to movies, live shows and other such entertainment that depicts adult-oriented content that could be “harmful to minors,” Fine was indignant.
“Because they’re still happening,” he said. “Obviously, the state statute we have in place is not adequate to make it stop.”
He also noted the bill creates a definition of “adult live performance” in Florida Statutes, outlines penalties for private facilities that admit minors to such shows and addresses governments that choose to permit them.
Democrats proffered seven amendments, which their GOP colleagues shot down by a voice vote. Reps. Anna Eskamani and Angie Nixon filed similar proposals that would have added exceptions for children accompanied by a parent or guardian.
An amendment by Rep. Lindsay Cross would have removed language prohibiting governments from permitting adult live events, which would protect them from punishment for hosting gay pride events. Another by Rita Harris aimed to clarify that dressing as someone of the opposite sex doesn’t in and of itself qualify as an adult live performance.
Rep. Alex Andrade pushed back on Harris’ suggestion and asked her if she believed anyone interpreting the proposed statute would conflate wearing clothes with exposing one’s genitals. Harris said no, but including the recommended language would help prevent a “chilling effect” on such shows and keep drag performances from being targeted “simply because they are drag performances.”
Two amendment Republicans rebuffed, both by Nixon, verged on confrontational. One would have simply renamed the measure “The Homophobic and Transphobic Bill That Seeks to Create Fake Moral Outrage and Target and Erase the LGBTQ+ Community.”
Fine disingenuously called it a “well-considered amendment” before asking what in his bill supports changing its name. Nixon cited Fine’s numerous comments on social media, such as one from just six days ago in which he said his bill will ban cities from welcoming “drag queen entertainers from grooming our children!”
Nixon also filed an amendment that would have exempted adult live performances “consisting of persons dressed in X-Men Costumes,” a reference to remarks Republican Rep. Webster Barnaby made last week, when he likened transgender people to “mutants living among us on planet Earth.”
A third and final reading of SB 1438 is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.