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Frist, Brownback Fast-Track Smut Bill - Broadcasting & Cable

Frist, Brownback Fast-Track Smut Bill

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Staffers to Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) say that Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was trying Wednesday night to fast-track Brownback's bill boosting indecency fines by ten-fold to a maximum of $325,000, though that option appeared unlikely to succeed.

If no senator had objected, the bill could have passed by unanimous consent on the Senate floor and there would be a Senate bill to conference with the House-passed bill that boosts the fines to $500,000.

At press time, no Republicans had objected and staffers were waiting to hear from the Senate Cloak Room. But business was done for the day on the Senate floor and the fast-tracking option looked increasingly unlikely.
While Brownback would have liked the fast-track route, staffers understood it was a long-shot. They are now looking at plan B, which would be the first movement on an indecency bill in many months.
The same staffers had hoped the bill would be marked up in the Senate Commerce Committee this week, but it did not make it onto the committee calendar. Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) had indicated he would not object to earlier fast-track proposals by Frist, but as for his committee, he has said he wants to give industry self-regulation, including a $300 million information campaign, a chance to work before he legislates at the problem.

Brownback's staffers have been working with Frist on the short-cut vote. Unanimous consent is generally confined to noncontroversial measures--naming post offices, for instance--that nobody objects to and would prefer not using up floor time on.

If the unanimous consent option doesn't pan out, Frist has committed to making "a good-faith effort" to plan B, which is bypassing the Commerce Committee through a special parliamentary procedure and bringing the bill to a Senate floor vote within the next two-three weeks, says an aide to Brownback.

Any senator can object to that process, too, but the entire Senate gets to vote that objection down if they want, and there are currently 90 Senators who voted in 2004 to up the indecency fines when it was an amendment--eventually stripped--to a defense appropriations bill.

Frist is said to have tried the same tack with the House version that passed last year, but that bill also included putting a station's license in play after three indecency findings (the three-strikes provision) and removing the warning for performers, making them liable for a first penalty of up to $500,000.

Both made that bill far more problematic than Brownback's three-line, up-the-fine initiative that does not expand the FCC's powers beyond simply raising the fine it can levy.

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