AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas lieutenant governor paused debate Tuesday afternoon on legislation that would restrict and even criminalize drag shows in the state after a Democratic senator’s comment about addressing gun violence led to cheers and applause from visitors in the chamber.
The full Senate began discussing Senate Bill 12, which Republican Sen. Bryan Hughes of Mineola introduced. It would levy a penalty of up to $10,000 against any business owner hosting a “sexually oriented performance” with anyone who’s younger than 18 present. A city or county would also not be able to host these kinds of performances on public property, according to the proposal. The bill defines “sexually oriented performance” as a “male performer exhibiting as a female, or a female performer exhibiting as a male” who “appeals to the prurient interest in sex.”
Drag performers could also face a criminal misdemeanor charge if they perform in front of children or on public property, according to the language in SB 12.
Several Democrats peppered Hughes with questions Tuesday to clarify which types of events could lead to consequences if his bill becomes law. An extended exchange between Hughes and Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, led to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick bringing down his gavel several times and admonishing the latter lawmaker.
It began when Gutierrez asked Hughes how a police officer would be able to determine a drag performer’s biological sex while responding to a possible violation of this proposed law. Hughes said, “If it appeals to the prurient interest [in sex] and meets any of those above prongs, it’s captured by the bill because this is about protecting children, what should be done in the presence of children.”
“Man, I’m telling you: I’ve been all about this session about protecting children, my friend,” Gutierrez responded, “and we haven’t done a whole lot of protecting of children when it comes to guns and ammunition.”
At that point, some in the Senate gallery reacted, which made Patrick stop the proceedings to warn the crowd that he would not tolerate any more “outbursts.” While Patrick did that, a hot-mic moment in the Senate chamber captured Gutierrez saying to Hughes, “This is bulls—. You’re better than this.”
Patrick then instructed Gutierrez “to confine your debate on this bill to the bill.”
“Fair enough,” the senator responded before continuing with his questioning.
The Senate eventually gave initial approval to SB 12 by a vote of 21-10, so it now needs one more vote before it clears the chamber and heads to the Texas House of Representatives for consideration.
Additionally, the bill that would strip state funding from any municipal library that hosts story time with a drag performer also passed its first hurdle in the full Senate. The lawmakers approved it by a vote of 20-9, with two voting present on the proposal. The Senate will have to take it up one more time to send it to the House, too.
Before those two votes, the Senate approved legislation Tuesday banning treatment options for transgender young people, and it will ultimately apply to those already receiving that kind of health care in the state after a reversal among Republican lawmakers. A House committee will now take up this legislation at a later date.