Last-Ditch for Smut-Fine Boost

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Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) has regrouped and has reintroduced in the Senate a new indecency bill that would boost the Federal Communications Commission's fines to a $500,000 maximum (from $27,500), with a $3 million cap per 24 hours; apply the increased fines to performers, as well as station licensees; and require the FCC to issue a notice of inquiry within nine months and issue a fine if warranted within another nine.

It would give the FCC discretion to take into account market size and ability to pay when levying fines, and would require the commission to report regularly to Congress on indecency fines.
Essentially it is the bill originally passed in the House, modifeid to reflect the language of the compromise struck early last week for an indecency amendment to a defense authorization bill. That amendment never made it out of conference.

Brownback and three co-sponsors were trying to get the bill passed by unanimous consent before Congress adjourns in the next few days. If not, they will try in the lame duck session or next year. A Brownback staffer says the Senator is confident he has the support to pass it in one of those venues.

Co-sponsors of the bill are Senators John Ensign (R-Nev.), Conrad Burns and, somewhat surprisingly, Byron Dorgan (D. N.D.). Dorgan was widely believed to have helped submarine the amendment in conference, though he was not a conferee, because it had been stripped of an original add-on, by Dorgan, that would have thrown out the FCC's media ownership rules. Dorgan is a vocal critic of consolidation.

Dorgan's office would not comment on his participation, beyond saying that the conferees needed to take responsibility for their own actions, but sources on both sides of the Hill said Dorgan had made his displeasure with the stripped-down bill known.

The Parents Television Council Thursday sent out an e-mail criticizing Dorgan for blocking the amendment. They were quick to send out another Friday pushing passage of the stand-alone bill.

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