Raleigh, N.C. — The House Rules Committee gave unanimous approval Wednesday to House Bill 34, the measure that would officially classify women's nipples as indecent under North Carolina law.
The measure is expected on the House floor Thursday.
Sponsor Rep. Rayne Brown, R-Davidson, told the committee the current indecency law is "hazy" because it doesn't specify women's breasts as "private parts."
A state Supreme Court ruling from 1998 implied that breasts should be included under the definition of private parts, but the clarification was never entered into statute.
"It clarifies the indecent exposure law," she said. "It does not make a new law. It does not amend the law. It makes no new penalties in the law."
Co-sponsor Rep Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe, said Asheville's city council sought to enact an ordinance that would stop the "Go Topless" event after its second annual occurrence, but was warned against it by the city's attorney because of the ambiguity of state law.
""That's why we're clarifying the law – to provide them with the relief they need," he explained.
"I think knowledge is power," Brown added. "It provides certainty to communities."
The bill was sent back to committee because of some members' concerns that it might put topless women at risk of being labeled sex offenders.
But staff attorney Hal Pell said that would happen only if the conduct was explicitly sexual and involved a minor, as is the case under current indecency law.
"Your run of the mill – someone that's just topless, walking down the street? No," Pell said.
Pell said the misdemeanor provision wouldn't be easy to trigger accidentally, either.
"It has to be willful exposure," he said. "Wardrobe malfunctions don't count."
The law makes exceptions for breastfeeding and adult clubs that are permitted by local ordinance.
Amid the jokes flying around the committee table was one fact that came as news to a lot of lawmakers.
"Currently, mooning is legal in North Carolina," Pell told them. "However, other private parts must be covered."
"Suppose they move from a breast exposure to a mooning festival," said Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham.
"If that was to happen, it would probably indeed happen in Asheville," replied Moffitt, "and I would be prepared to address that with a separate piece of legislation if it does become disruptive to our community."
Asked if he wanted to add a "mooning" amendment to the current bill, Moffitt said, "Not right now."
"I guess you'll address that one on the back end," Hall joked.