Let us turn our attention to House Bill 385, filed for the upcoming session of our state Legislature. It is a proposal to revise Florida's laws on obscenity.
The gist of the bill is to add the term "simulated" to the definition of "sexual conduct" in our obscenity law.
Specifically, the bill addresses:
• Actual or simulated "lewd exhibition" of, shall we say, personal areas. (The law itself is more explicit; feel free to take your own tour of Florida Statutes, Chapter 847.)
• Actual or simulated "physical contact with a person's clothed or unclothed" pelvic area, bottom or female breasts in a sexual context.
• Actual or simulated actions that would otherwise be defined as sexual battery under Florida law.
Naturally, the bill already has gotten more attention than, say, a boring law on municipal finances or local sewer rates.
And it has drawn the concern of groups ranging from naturists (the clothing-optional kind, not bird-watchers) to civil libertarians to the adult-business industry.
What, exactly, does it mean to simulate this kind of "physical contact"?
If it doesn't matter whether one is clothed or unclothed, then does "dirty dancing" become obscene? The lambada? A really steamy tango?
What about suggestive cheerleader routines? What about bump-and-grind adult dancers?
"The Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders would have to be stopped at the state line," worries Richard Mason, president of the South Florida Free Beaches/Florida Naturist Association.
"They're going to outlaw slow dancing, I think," sighs Joe Redner, Tampa's most famous adult-business owner.
The sponsor of the bill is first-term state Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa. He says that it absolutely does not outlaw dancing, cheerleaders or anything like that.
All it does is include "simulated" sexual acts in the definition of obscene material that adults can't give to kids, can't use kids to produce, and so on.
Last year, an appeals court reversed the conviction of a former Lakeland school principal who had cut and pasted photographs of students' faces onto other photos of, you know, a more adult nature.
The court ruled correctly: The law did not forbid his actions. So Grant's bill is simply trying to fix this loophole, he says: "Those who say that this bill somehow opens Pandora's box are simply missing the point."
The skeptics remain skeptical. Luke Lirot, a Tampa lawyer well known for defending adult-business cases, thinks the bill is unconstitutional. Redner thinks it is overbroad.
And Mason of the naturist group is worried that any time the Legislature starts messing with such things, the temptation to throw some more "morality" into it will be great.
"What we are concerned with is that this may be a 'carrier bill' that seeks amendments that may make mere nudity, absent any lewd, lascivious or indecent behavior, a crime," he says.
That has happened before. Back in 1994, the Legislature got into the naked-person-regulating business, and came up with a proposed list of the places in Florida where it would be legal to be naked. They managed to leave out both naturist camps and adult clubs, but swore it was just an oversight. The bill didn't pass.
In conclusion: Well!
Like Grant, I agree there is a distinction between a "virtual" depiction — a comic book, say, which has constitutional protections — and the use of real children's photographs for conversion into sexual content. Let the Legislature plug the loophole in the narrowest way possible, and we can give the resulting law a spin in court.
I honestly do not think he is trying to ban anything else. Still, these things do have a way of getting out of hand; let the cheerleaders, naturists, dancers and strippers of the state stay on guard. Everybody else, too.