Wisconsin Republicans want to make it a crime to be naked in public

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans want to make it a crime to be naked in public for any reason and for a child to attend any event, like a naked bike ride, where people don’t have clothes on.

A state Senate committee held a hearing Thursday on two bills introduced after a photograph circulated earlier this year of a child who attended Madison’s annual naked bike ride. The picture outraged some Republican lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, who questioned Attorney General Merrick Garland at a congressional hearing last month about what he was going to do about it.

“It’s kind of a joke, but it’s not a joke,” the bills’ lead sponsor, Republican Senate President Chris Kapenga, testified Thursday. “This is a pretty serious, especially in today’s society.”

The World Naked Bike Ride has been happening in cities across the world for more than 20 years. The events are meant to encourage body positivity and to promote cycling as a form of transportation that lessens the dependence on petroleum.

The ride marked its 13th year in Madison this summer. About 150 bikers took part this year, riding past the state Capitol — twice — on a Saturday morning where thousands of people, including children, were attending the popular farmers’ market.

A photo from the Madison event posted on Facebook showed that a girl under age 18 participated. The photo showed the girl, who appeared to be nude except for shoes and a helmet, facing away from the camera.

Acting on complaints, the Dane County district attorney determined that the girl’s participation did not violate any state laws. Madison police determined that state law on the possession of child pornography also did not apply because the photo was not sexual in nature. It also said that current state law relating to exposing a child to harmful material or narrations did not apply.

One proposal heard Thursday would make it a misdemeanor to be naked in public for any reason. Under current law, being naked is only a crime if the public exposure is indecent.

The other measure would make it a crime to allow anyone under 18 to see a nude person who is part of an event, like a naked bike ride, where adult participants are intentionally not wearing clothes. It would also make it a crime to take a picture of a child who is a part of the event and not wearing clothes, unless the picture is being taken in order to report it to police.

Violators under both could face up to nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine.

“If you agree that people shouldn’t be allowed to expose their genitals in public and that minor children shouldn’t be paraded naked through streets and photographed, then I encourage your support on these bills,” Kapenga testified.

Democratic Sen. LaTonya Johnson raised concerns about the bill potentially making it illegal to bring children to concerts or stage events where performers are partially nude. She said it could lead to some performers not coming to Wisconsin.

Kapenga dismissed those concerns, saying performers like Beyoncé and her dancers could afford to purchase “100 strips of cloth to cover their butt crack.”

“I highly doubt that Beyoncé would not come because she can’t expose her crack,” he said.

The bills, which have no Democratic sponsors, are a long way from becoming law. They would have to pass both the state Senate and Assembly, which are controlled by Republicans, and then be signed into law by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

Evers’ spokesperson Britt Cudaback said the governor had not reviewed the bills.

Jeff Weigand, a Dane County Board supervisor who complained to police about the naked bike ride, testified in favor of the proposals Thursday.

“Proponents of this bike ride have stated that they believe this is about their freedom to protest,” Weigand testified. “I would ask them, ‘What about my freedom? What about my freedom to walk around, walk down the street and not be assaulted by nudity? What about my children’s innocence that I work very hard to protect?’”

Participants have been cited at naked bike rides in Madison and around the country. At the first ride in Madison in 2010, Madison police issued 10 citations for disorderly conduct. A year later, Madison’s city council amended the public indecency ordinance to allow for nudity as a legitimate form of political protest.

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