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Indecency-Fine Boost a Bust

The bouncing ball that is indecency legislation has apparently had the air let out of it.

According to Hill sources close to key conferees on the amendment, it has been stripped from a Department of Defense Authorization bill legislators are trying to pass before leaving Oct. 8.

Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) is expected to reintroduce a stripped-down version of the bill in the next Congress, but boosting the FCC's indecency fines and applying them to performers appears to be dead, at least for this Congress.

If so, it would be a whimper of an ending after the table-banging that began with hearings in the House and Senate following the Janet Jackson reveal.

The caveat is that it could still conceivably be attached to another bill, though that appears unlikely.

Senator John Ensign (R-Nev.) had earlier this week struck a compromise with key conferees that stripped out problematic provisions dealing with violence regulation, cable indecency and rolling back media consolidation.
The new compromise amendment would have boosted FCC fines to $500,000 per violation, capped at $3 million per 24-hour period; would have applied them to performers as well as licensees; and would have given the FCC a so-called shot clock of 9 months in which to issue notices of liability for indecency violators and another nine months to issue a fine for those deemed in need of one.
Apparently, backers of the problematic provisions on ownership and other matters weren't ready to have them dropped without a fight, and a fight is what Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) doesn't need as he tries to get the huge bill, which included money for homeland security and the military, to a vote.
The indecency legislation push began earlier this year with a House Bill that focused primarily on boosting the FCC fines. House Telcomsubcom Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) wanted to keep the bill fairly free of the kind of amendments, on media violence or cable indecency regulation, that were obvious poison pills.

When it got to the Senate, Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) tried to do the same in an amendment to the DOD bill, but others, including Senator Byron Dorgan, were able to add the sort of amendments--vacating the FCC's media ownership rules in Dorgan's case--that made passage increasingly unlikely.

Dorgan's office had not heard of the amendment's excision, but Barry Piatt said that "if the conferees would rather protect corporations who are trying to buy everything up from being limited in that effort than protect kids from indecency, they made a poor choice."