Tomorrow marks the beginning of our third week of session. Session historically starts off a little bit slowly, and that has held true these first few weeks, at least on the House side. We've done some important committee work already, but the House has yet to hear any of the most controversial bills. They may start to come our way this week. I’ll talk about one of them here, and then provide a brief overview of some tips for communicating with legislators as things pick up speed!
SB43 – “To Classify a Drag Performance as an Adult-Oriented Business”
The bill that you have contacted me about the most the last week was SB43 ([link removed]) . This is a bill that would ban drag performers – or, as the bill states, someone who “exhibits a gender identity that is different from the performer's gender assigned at birth” in the presence of children “that is intended to appeal to the prurient interest.” This bill would, in effect, outlaw sexually explicit drag performances in the presence of children.
First, it’s important to know what this bill would not do. It would not, on its face at least, keep drag performers from being around children, for instance doing book-readings or other family-friendly appearances, as long as that entertainment was not “prurient,” which we know it would not be. As written, despite its frightening title, this bill would likely not ban anything that is currently occurring. That’s what the bill doesn’t do.
That said, its filing and potential passage remains very concerning and potentially dangerous to LGBTQ people. What doors does this open for punishment for people who “exhibit a gender identity that is different from [their] gender assigned at birth?” Who determines whether one’s clothing or makeup is “traditionally worn by the … opposite sex?” Further, as was pointed out in Senate committee last week, there are plenty of establishments, (like certain well-known, owl-themed sports bars) that certainly aim to appeal to its patrons' “prurient interests.” Arkansas lawmakers aren’t doing anything to limit children’s access to those spaces. We have to ask ourselves, and them, why.
At the end of the day, this bill highlights an underlying theme of seeing LGBTQ people’s mere existence as inherently “sexual,” in a way that is incorrect, disturbing, and could form the foundation of much worse laws to come. We have seen horrifying attacks on LGBTQ Arkansans in recent sessions and unfortunately, I don't think we've seen the last of them. Thank you to those of you who have spoken out so far in an attempt to stop the tidal wave of these types of bills. While it’s important that we take each proposed law as it comes and are clear about what it does (or doesn't) actually do, make no mistake about it: I stand firmly against any bill that would harm LGBTQ people in our state and will, as I always have, fight vehemently against any threats to Arkansans’ dignity, humanity, and expression, including SB43.
That bill should be heard on the Senate floor today, and if it passes, as I expect it will, will make its way over to the House Committee (and ultimately the House Floor) later in the week.
Communicating with Lawmakers
Whether it’s on this issue, or one of many others I’ve heard from you about, our lawmakers need to hear from you. So how can you most effectively communicate with them?
First, the nuts and bolts. You can find contact information for every legislator here ([link removed]) . When a bill that you’re concerned about is going before a committee, target your communication to committee members first. You can find a list of committee members here ([link removed]) .
Once you know how to reach the person you want to reach, here are some tips for making the most of your communication with them:
1. Identify yourself as a constituent, if you are one. Legislators are much more receptive when outreach comes from their own constituent. If you have like-minded friends in other legislators’ districts, please encourage them to reach out to their own legislators, too.
2. Be specific. Keep your comments narrowly tailored, both in terms of subject matter and geography. Remember that we make state law alone. Invoking national political figures, for example, may unnecessarily politicize the issues.
3. Be professional. Build credibility by stating facts and expressing your concerns/fears/hopes. Try to keep in mind that nothing will shut off a lawmaker’s ears to your concerns more quickly than accusations or insults. Avoid those. Even when it may be hard.
4. Be personal. Personal stories matter A LOT. It’s always helpful to let a legislator know how a particular bill before them will impact people. We do the best we can, but we are all only legislating from our own very limited life experience. Hearing from people who will be directly impacted by any given piece of legislation can often be the difference-maker.
5. Avoid form letters. Though they can sometimes be a way of getting a rough idea of what issues have people concerned, form letters are often the first type of communication to be overlooked or even dismissed. It may feel overwhelming to be tasked with composing your own message to a legislator, but even something as simple as “Please vote YES on HB2121. I am a teacher and this bill will save me hundreds of dollars a year” will have more of an impact than a copy of a letter a legislator has already seen hundreds of times. A form letter is better than nothing. But pretty much anything is better than a form letter.
6. Be concise. We have no staff to help us with communications and are often wading through hundreds of e-mails a day while trying to stay on top of our own legislation and reading the roughly 2000 bills that will come in front of us over the next few months. We want to hear from you always, but you stand the best chance of being well-heard if you keep your message brief and to the point.
7. Be patient. If you’ve reached out to a lawmaker and haven’t heard back, it most likely isn’t because they don’t care. Again, it’s hard to overstate the pace of our work down here during session. I try to respond to every e-mail I receive, but I fall short of this goal despite my best efforts. I always appreciate a follow-up “I’m just confirming you received this message,” to give me the chance to respond, if I haven’t already. You deserve a response.
8. Make this easy call. You can always call the House during session at our in-session phone number: 501-682-6211. Here, you’ll speak to a staffer who will take your message, typically something as simple as “Vote YES on HB2121.” The legislator you’ve left the message for will receive a pink slip on their desk with the message. A stack of pink slips on the day of a big vote is quite a powerful visual, so don’t overlook this option! It’s easy and effective.
These next few weeks we'll be on the lookout for more details regarding Gov. Sanders' education and criminal justice reform. Each is expected to come in "omnibus" form (meaning all the diverse and varied education policy changes will be in one bill and the same for criminal justice). These bills will be packed with big changes -- likely a mixture of good and bad -- and will take some time to wade through. Please be in touch as they come out. We'll need your expertise then more than ever!
Thank you all for your many good questions and ideas the last few weeks. And, as always, your trust and support. Going back home on the weekends, seeing y’all around town, and hearing your words of encouragement outside school at pick-up or being shouted out of car windows (you know who you are!) never fails to fuel me up for the week ahead. Thank you, thank you. We’re in it together.
Our mailing address is:
Citizens for Nicole Clowney
PO Box 207
Fayetteville, Ar 72702
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