WASHINGTON — The Senate voted, 97 to 0, Wednesday to outlaw the use of children in pornographic films or magazines and to impose a broad ban on the distribution of obscene material for profit.
The measure, sometimes known as the "kiddieporn bill," would also forbid transmission of pornographic programs on cable television and bar possession of pornographic materials on virtually all federal territory, including U.S. government buildings.
Violators would be subject to criminal penalties ranging from two years to life in prison and fines up to $250,000, with provisions for forfeiture of property used to sell or distribute obscene material.
The measure, much broader and more specific than previous anti-pornography restrictions, was approved unanimously despite qualms about its constitutionality voiced by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a Judiciary Committee member.
See Threat to Rights
They contended that parts of the bill did not provide adequate protection for individual rights.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S. C.), brushed off their complaints and said that the nation must take strong action to protect children from sexual exploitation and make it a federal crime to engage in the pornography business.
"We're trying to ban obscenity," Thurmond cried.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said the high court has ruled that obscenity is not entitled to First Amendment protection of free speech, adding: "Constitutionally, this is a good bill, and I think it will pass muster."
Both Biden and Specter voted for the legislation, introduced as an amendment to a bill that would require large businesses to grant 10 weeks of unpaid leave to parents with a newborn infant, a newly adopted child or a child with a serious illness.
The sponsor of the parental leave bill, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), said that adoption of the "kiddieporn" provision raises chances for passage of his more controversial leave measure, despite indications that it would run into delaying tactics.
Faces Uncertain Fate
Even if the amended bill clears the Senate, it faces an uncertain fate in the House during the rush to adjourn in the final weeks of the election campaign. Thurmond's amendment does not define obscenity, relying on federal courts to rule on that issue in individual cases by applying the Supreme Court standard of material that, taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interest.
Specter said he was concerned about the measure's expansiveness, encompassing, in addition to child pornographers, a soldier on an Army post or a camper at a national park who had a pornographic magazine in his possession.
Thurmond said during debate, however, that the legislation is designed to let law enforcement officials focus on those who distribute obscene material for a profit rather than on an individual customer.
Thurmond got the measure to the Senate floor by circumventing the Judiciary Committee, where, he claimed, that his bill has been bottled up by senators who oppose it. In the past, the South Carolina lawmaker has accused Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) of blocking action on the measure, which has become an issue in Metzenbaum's reelection campaign.
Says Metzenbaum Helped
However, Biden insisted that Metzenbaum had pressed him to bring "kiddieporn" to a Senate vote, and the Ohio lawmaker joined his other colleagues in voting for it.
The American Civil Liberties Union immediately criticized the measure, calling it "the most sweeping censorship law in decades."
"No federal law grants more extreme powers to federal prosecutors to dictate the viewing, listening and reading habits of Americans," ACLU legislative counsel Barry Lynn said in a statement.
The greatest penalties--20 years to life in prison--were provided for those accepting money or paying money for children appearing in sexually explicit material. Computer transmission of child pornography or ads seeking children to appear in such material would be penalized by up to a 10-year jail term and fines up to $100,000 for the first offense. The bill would require producers of sexually explicit films to keep records of the names and ages of all performers who engage in sex acts, retroactive to 1978.