House Set to Pass Senate Indecency Bill

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The House is scheduled to pass on Tuesday a Senate-approved bill that would increase Federal Communications Commission radio- and television-indecency fines tenfold to $325,000 per offense under a $3 million cap for any single act.

According to a vote schedule released by Majority Whip Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the House is to take up the indecency bill (S. 193) on its suspension calendar, which is reserved for noncontroversial bills that often sail through by voice vote or with overwhelming support.

House passage would send the Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), to the White House for President Bush’s signature.

"Next week, the House will vote on the broadcast-decency-enforcement act, and I hope we can send a bill to the president's desk for him to sign and enact into law. This is a victory for children and families,” Brownback said in a prepared statement Friday.

Brownback’s bill is different from the bill (H.R. 310) that passed the House, 389-38, in February 2005.

The House bill called for raising the maximum fine from $32,500 to $500,000 and for making it easier for the FCC to impose fines on shock jocks for willful violations. The House bill also required the FCC to commence a license-revocation hearing after a licensee’s third indecency penalty within its eight-year license term.

Congressional leaders have evidently decided that sending Brownback's bill to the White House would be less controversial than getting the Senate to pass the House bill sponsored by Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

Like the House bill, Brownback’s bill would not authorize the FCC to regulate indecent content carried by cable- and satellite-TV operators.

The FCC bans indecent broadcasts from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. -- hours when children are expected to comprise a substantial portion of the audience.

The commission defines indecent as “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.”

Singer Janet Jackson’s breast exposure during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, aired nationally by CBS, infuriated family and parental organizations. The FCC fined CBS Corp.-owned stations $550,000. Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” put pressure on Congress to raise broadcast indecency penalties.

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