Freedom of Expression

Lawmakers in Kentucky Offer Legislation To Regulate Adult-Oriented Businesses

The Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, designed by architect Frank Mills Andrews and completed in 1909.
The Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, designed by architect Frank Mills Andrews and completed in 1909. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith)

By The Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Republican lawmakers proposed making adult-oriented businesses off-limits within a block of places frequented by children as they offered legislation on Tuesday that includes a renewed effort to regulate drag shows in Kentucky.

Identical Senate and House bills unveiled by Sen. Lindsey Tichenor and Rep. Nancy Tate would create statewide regulations for adult businesses. Local governments could impose even stronger measures.

The legislation would prohibit such businesses from operating within a city block — or about 930 feet (285 meters) — of an established school, childcare center, park, recreational area, place of worship or children’s amusement business. Any existing adult business currently within that buffer zone would be given five years to comply with the legislation.

The two lawmakers told reporters that the goal is to protect children from sexually explicit content.

“It is our responsibility as adults to protect the innocence of their minds and bodies,” Tate said.

Their legislation would prohibit minors from entering adult-oriented businesses and would prohibit those businesses from having outside displays of nudity or sexual conduct.

The measures define adult-oriented businesses to include any adult arcade, adult book or video store, adult cabaret, adult theater or any establishment hosting sexually explicit drag performances or any other performance involving sexual conduct.

Adult businesses violating those restrictions could lose their business and liquor licenses.

There are no criminal penalties in the bills.

The bills would renew an effort to regulate drag shows in the Bluegrass State. Last year, a measure would have prohibited drag shows on public property or in places where adult performances could be viewed by children. During highly charged debates, supporters touted it as a child-protection measure while opponents said it would have stifled First Amendment rights.

Tichenor said Tuesday that the new legislation isn’t intended to impede free speech rights.

“This is not to limit drag,” Tichenor said at a news conference. “This is not to limit access to adult content. It is strictly to keep children away from sexually explicit content.”

The bills would prohibit sexually explicit drag performances in places frequented by children, such as libraries, Tate said.

Asked who would decide what’s deemed sexually explicit, Tichenor replied: “It is defined in the bill pretty extensively. And it would be up to the communities. Obviously, a resident, a county attorney could bring forth a civil cause and question the performance and it would move forward from there.”

Supporters of the bills are hoping to avoid the time constraints that derailed their efforts last year. The 2023 legislation cleared the Senate but its supporters ran out of time in the House. Both chambers have Republican supermajorities. This year’s legislative session lasts 60 days. Last year’s session was 30 days.

This year’s bills were offered on day 20 of this year’s session. If both measures advance, legislative leaders eventually would decide which one would ultimately move forward.