House Boosts Indecency Fines

WASHINGTON, D.C. A powerful House committee on Wednesday passed a bill aimed at squelching broadcast indecency after amending the measure to increase fines sharply from earlier versions of the legislation.

Broadcasters would face fines of up to $500,000, with no limit on penalties for repeated violations, under the bill passed on a bipartisan 49-to-1 vote by the Commerce Committee. Earlier versions of the measure proposed a maximum fine of $275,000, which is 10 times the current limit, and a cap of $3 million for repeated violations.

Lawmakers said they wanted to make sure they get the attention of giant broadcast corporations that count annual revenue in the billions of dollars.

“By significantly increasing [penalties], the fines will be at a level where they cannot be ignored,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the telecommunications subcommittee where the bill was conceived.

The measure, which enjoys backing by the Bush administration and the House’s Republican leadership, comes up for a vote early next week in the full House, where passage is expected. Separately, the Senate is to take up its version of anti-indecency legislation next week.

The sole vote against the measure on Wednesday came from Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who was uncomfortable with the measure’s free-speech implications. Schakowsky offered an unsuccessful amendment to cut out a provision that subjects performers to the same fine regimen as companies.

The bill also would require regulators to consider revoking licenses of those with three indecency offenses, require quicker action on indecency complaints, and protect affiliates from fines for live shows or shows they have not been able to review.