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Anti-Porn Measure Creates New Crimes, New Punishments

September 29, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ New crimes and new punishments are created in an anti-pornography measure approved by the Senate, including life prison terms for child selling and $250,000 fines for transmitting obscene dial-a-porn messages.

The chamber voted 97-0 to approve the obscenity measure, tacking it onto a controversial family leave bill with an uncertain future. Final action on the two-part bill was expected late today.

The unanimous vote on the obscenity amendment followed hours of senatorial hand-wringing over child porn profiteers, a few constitutional reservations and several references, veiled and unveiled, to the demands of a political season.

″Those who vote against this ought to do so at their own peril,″ said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. ″It’s time for the U.S. Senate to set the standard in this area, for us to stand up and do what we should do, and I know that everybody in this body recognizes this filth problem.″

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., makes it easier to prosecute crimes and secure civil penalties in cases involving child pornography and obscene materials. The measure also sets stiff fines and prison terms, including 20 years to life for buying or selling children for use in child pornography.

It was added to a bill requiring large companies to offer at least 10 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to employees with medical crises or new babies. Thurmond has been among the conservatives leading the charge against the leave bill.

But Thurmond and Hatch complained that although the child pornography bill had 45 co-sponsors, other members blocked it from coming up in the Judiciary Committee for seven months. They said this was the only way to bring it to the floor.

The Thurmond amendment would:

-Ban buying and selling of children for use in child pornography.

-Ban the use of computers to distribute or advertise child pornography.

-Require producers of sexually explicit material to document the ages of persons appearing in the material.

-Give states clear authority to regulate obscene or indecent programming on cable and subscription television services. This would overturn a Supreme Court decision.

-Raise the maximum penalties for transmitting obscene dial-a-porn messages from six months in jail and a $50,000 fine to two years and $250,000.

-Make it illegal to sell or possess obscene material or child pornography on federal lands. Individuals could be fined up to $5,000 and sentenced to six months in jail for possession; up to $250,000 and two years in jail for sale.

-Make it easier for prosecutors to file civil forfeiture suits against people possessing obscene materials and set fines of up to $250,000 for people who possess obscene material in violation of obscenity statutes.

Not voting on the measure were Sens. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, and Dan Quayle, R-Ind., the two vice presidential nominees, and Spark Matsunaga, D- Hawaii.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., cited several areas of constitutional concern including what he called the ″very troubling″ federal lands provision.

He said it would encompass the entire Virgin Islands and Indian territory, national parks, military bases and federal buildings. The Senate is trying to protect children, ″not trying to reach a soldier who has an obscene book in his car,″ Specter said.

But Thurmond insisted his bill is constitutional and said Congress shouldn’t waste time quibbling. ″We are trying to ban obscenity,″ he said. ″If you want to protect the children of this country, you’ve got to take a stand.″

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