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Decorum stressed before nipple ban gets public airing

New Hampshire Sunday News

February 27. 2016 2:18PM
File/JASON SCHREIBER/Union Leader Correspondent Heidi Lilley at a Free the Nipple protest at Hampton Beach last August. She says she'll be testifying Monday at a legislative hearing over a proposed lewdness bill. 

CONCORD — A proposal to add certain body parts — including nipples — to the state's indecent exposure law comes before a House committee Monday.

And the chairman of that committee is warning that he won't tolerate any demonstrations or disrespect.

“Everything needs to be respectful and appropriate,” said Rep. John Tholl, R-Whitefield, who chairs the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

“There has to be a certain level of decorum,” Tholl told the Sunday News. “I will not put up with outbursts or any kind of actions that would disrupt the hearing.”

The hearing on House Bill 1525 is set for 10 a.m. in Room 204 at the Legislative Office Building. The measure would expand the acts covered under RSA 645, the state's public indecency law.

Rep. Brian Gallagher, R-Sanbornton, the prime sponsor, said he was approached by constituents last year after the “Free the Nipple” movement promoted topless sunbathing at state beaches, including Hampton Beach and Weirs Beach.

Two women cited for going topless at the Gilford town beach last September took their case to court — and won.

A judge found that there was no constitutional right to go topless, and didn't buy the defendants' argument that their act was protected political speech. However, Judge James Carroll agreed with them that state law does not prohibit toplessness, and dismissed the charges against the two.

That's the law Gallagher is trying to change.

‘Not going way'

As it now stands, someone is guilty of a misdemeanor if he or she fornicates, exposes his or her genitals, or “performs any other act of gross lewdness under circumstances which he or she should know will likely cause affront or alarm.”

The proposed measure would also include someone who exposes one's anus or, “if a woman, purposely exposes the areola or nipple of her breast or breasts in a public place and in the presence of another person with reckless disregard for whether a reasonable person would be offended or alarmed by such act.”

The measure specifically exempts breastfeeding.

Gallagher said the emphasis in his bill is behavior in public spaces. “There is a national movement where folks want to normalize behaviors so that the toplessness can be permitted in public,” he said.

“What folks choose to do in private spaces is their own business,” he said. “The public spaces are spaces that all of us are entitled to enjoy.”

Gallagher said New Hampshire's economy depends on tourism and its quality of life. “I just wonder if this were to accelerate as a movement, whether or not that could have unintended consequences on our tourism industry,” he said.

Heidi Lilley of Gilford is one of the two women cited for violating a town ordinance that prohibits “female topless sun bathing” at her town beach last September.

She plans to be at Monday's hearing, along with other members of the Free the Nipple New Hampshire group, and will probably testify.

Banning women from going topless is unconstitutional, sexist and discriminatory, Lilley said in a phone interview Friday.

She's been a nudist for more than 20 years, Lilley said, and joined the Free the Nipple movement as soon as she heard about it. “Men fought for this right in the 1930s and we're fighting for this right now,” she said.

Lilley rejects the argument that women's breasts are sexual and thus should be covered in public. “Well, lips are sexual. Do we need to cover up our lips?” she asked.

She said her group is already planning activities for the coming summer. “It's not going away,” she said.

Civil comments

Even before its first public airing, the measure has generated controversy.

After Rep. Amanda Bouldin, D-Manchester, criticized the bill on social media in late December, two male lawmakers, Rep. Josh Moore, R-Merrimack, and Rep. Alfred Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, responded to her online.

Moore, one of the bill's original sponsors, posted, “If it's a woman's natural inclination to pull her nipple out in public and you support that then you should have no problem with a mans inclantion (sic) to stare at it and grab it...”

And Baldasaro wrote, “No disrespect, but your nipple would be the last one I would want to see.”

The men's comments drew widespread media coverage and ignited a firestorm — including hundreds of irate comments on Moore's Facebook page.

Moore has since removed his name from the bill, stating on social media that his comments were “misrepresented,” and that he wanted the bill to get a fair hearing.

Bouldin said she was targeted last week on her Facebook page, with people posting disturbing comments and lewd images as quickly as she could delete them. The final one: “We'll see you degenerates in Concord.”

“It's one thing to testify,” Bouldin said. “That's your right. It's another to bring an Internet argument into real life.”

Bouldin said she unintentionally became embroiled in the controversy over the bill. “And it doesn't affect me because I do keep my clothes on in public,” she said.

But she opposes the measure and considers it a waste of time. And she predicted that if passed, the law would only encourage protesters to increase their activities. “They'll be ready to challenge this in court,” she said.

“It's not constitutional and it's not going to accomplish what they think it will,” she said. “It's going to blow up in everyone's faces.

“And sometimes the best way to deal with what you don't like is to ignore it.”

Tholl called the previous remarks by some lawmakers “childish.”

And he said, “Obviously, I can't control what they say outside of the committee room. However, I will do my very best to keep everything on an even level, and it will be civil and polite, or they will not be testifying.

“That goes for everybody.”

The “nipple” bill may not even be the most problematic hearing on the committee's agenda tomorrow. There's also a 1 p.m. public hearing on House Bill 1547 — banning bestiality.

Tholl admitted he's dreading that one. “There's some rumors I'm hearing that there are some groups out there that think it should be legal,” he said.

Tholl, a former state trooper who is police chief in Dalton, said he has asked security to be “on alert” should any disruptions occur at either hearing.

General News Manchester

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