Washington— Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) last week moved to pass a Senate bill that would impose a tenfold increase in radio- and TV-indecency fines handed down by the Federal Communications Commission, his staff members said.
Frist’s plan faced long odds because he needed to obtain unanimous consent to discharge the bill from the Senate Commerce Committee and send it to the Senate floor. Obtaining unanimous consent would have guaranteed the bill’s passage.
In a prepared statement, a Frist spokeswoman confirmed: “The leader is seeking unanimous consent to discharge from the Commerce Committee and pass S. 193, which increases the maximum fines the FCC may impose for indecency violations. It does not include other penalty provisions that have proved controversial in the past.”
It takes just one senator to block unanimous consent. Although all 55 Senate Republicans agreed to Frist’s plan, Senate Democrats had not done the same, a Senate Commerce Committee aide said last Thursday.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) would raise the maximum FCC fine from $32,500 per offense to $325,000. It would not apply to cable- or satellite-TV providers.
A Brownback aide said that Frist and Brownback have a backup plan if unanimous consent is not achieved. Brownback would reintroduce his bill and object to its referral to the Commerce Committee. That would place the bill directly on the Senate calendar, allowing Frist to call it up for a vote without needing unanimous consent. In that case, defeating the Brownback bill would require a filibuster, which takes 60 votes to stop.
Frist, a possible presidential contender, tried to bring a House-passed indecency bill (H.R. 310) to the Senate floor a few weeks ago but that effort failed. The House bill would, among other things, raise FCC indecency fines to $500,000 per offense.
The indecency issue has taken on great importance with social conservatives active in GOP primary politics. They have been lobbying for a crackdown on broadcast indecency for years, and their cause gained momentum after Janet Jackson’s breast exposure during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, which aired nationally on CBS.