RALEIGH — A scheduled vote by the N.C. House of Representatives on a measure that effectively could mean prison terms for women who bare their breasts in public was delayed Tuesday.
However, a local legislator who backs the proposal doesn’t see this as a sign that support for it is waning.
House Bill 34 seeks to redefine “private parts” to include the female nipple and areola in North Carolina’s obscenity law targeting acts of indecent exposure. The bill, which originated in House Judiciary Committee “C” Chaired by Rep. Sarah Stevens of Mount Airy, was a response to topless protesting last summer in Asheville.
Stevens has said that the measure is not an attempt to create a new law making full breast exposure a felony, but clarify the legal definition of private parts to conform to a Supreme Court ruling. Yet controversy has swirled since the bill’s introduction from opponents who see it as an attack on women.
The local House member indicated that the delaying of Tuesday’s vote on the House floor does not signal the bill being in any trouble.
Stevens pointed out Tuesday that it already has passed muster during one preliminary step toward becoming law. “It went to a rules committee and got out of there unscathed,” she said, adding that the bill left the committee on Monday.
No additional controversy has surfaced to threaten the proposal “that I know of,” said the Surry House member, who still is comfortable with its provisions. “To me, it should have been no controversy to begin with.”
The delay will allow more time for consultation with Senate lawmakers who also must approve the measure, according to a report by The Associated Press quoting Rep. Tim Moffitt of Buncombe County, for which Asheville is the county seat.
Stevens added Tuesday that there has been discussion of adding more elements to the bill, including the baring of parts of the buttocks.
Both Stevens and Moffitt are confident the proposal will come up for a vote later in the present legislative session.
Exposure of the breast determined to be for sexual gratification would be a felony, punishable by six months in prison, according to The Associated Press. Stevens has said the breasts could still be exposed as long as the nipples and areolas were covered through such means as pasties.
The bill exempts women who are breastfeeding from prosecution.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.