Measure revises fines for performers.

In an overwhleming bipartisan show of support for tougher indecency penalties, the House of Representatives today (Feb. 16) passed a modified Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, by a vote of 389-38. It now goes to the Senate, where there is a companion bill that is expected to be approved.

The House bill now includes an amendment to create fairer standards for fines against performers. The change was offered by bill sponsors Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., after artists' groups complained that the legislation would fine "individuals" at the same level -- or even higher -- as broadcast companies. The amendment enables the Federal Communications Commission to hand out a fine only if a performer "willingly" and "intentionally" utters indecent or profane language and to take into account the "financial impact" on a performer who is fined.

The bill allows for fines against performers as well as broadcast licensees of up to $500,000. Repeat violations by broacast companies would result in an FCC license-revocation review.

In a floor statement, co-sponsor Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the Commerce Committee chairman, said that a provision that would fine performers as well as broadcasters is necessary. "There's a clear need for it," said Barton. "Our purpose is not to bankrupt [a performer] but to provide a disincentive for indecent programming."

Rep. Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill., who voted against the bill, said the House should "get a grip," and that legislation was "big brother censorship."

Last year's Senate version, introduced by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, won approval by the Senate Commerce Committee in a 99 to 1 vote, but an amendment dealing with the FCC's court-challenged media-ownership rules halted its progress to the Senate floor for a vote.

Insiders say Republican leaders are hoping to schedule a Senate hearing on the bill this spring.

Brownback's bill, unlike the House version, does not contain the performer provision. Artists' groups say that should the Senate pass the Brownback bill, they will work to convince Senate-House conferees to reject the performer provision when they reconcile the two measures.