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Smut Bill Awaits Bush Signature

President Bush said he will sign legislation passed by Congress this week that jacks up fines for broadcast indecency.

"I believe that government has a responsibility to help strengthen families," the president said in a statement. "This legislation will make television and radio more family friendly by allowing the FCC to impose stiffer fines on broadcasters who air obscene or indecent programming."

By a 379-25 vote, the House passed the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act Wednesday, raising the penalty from $32,500 to $325,000 for each individual violation, with a cap for $3 million. The House passed a different decency bill sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) last year that raised fines to $500,000 and had a three-strikes license revocation provision. That bill, and a Senate version, remained lodged in the Senate Commerce Committee, where Chairman Ted Stevens favored industry self-regulation over government intervention. However, Stevens' committee was bypassed last month when Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) brought the current bill, sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to the floor by unanimous consent.

FCC Chairman Martin, who in March delivered the largest package of indecency fines in the history of the FCC, welcomed the legislation.

"The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act gives the Commission more tools to enable parents to watch television and listen to radio as a family. In addition, I believe that concerns regarding content should be addressed in a comprehensive fashion by empowering parents to choose the programming that comes into their homes," Martin said in a statement.

A $550,000 fine against CBS for the 2004 Super Bowl breast cameo was included in the fine package handed down in March. More recently, the FCC denied a request by CBS to reconsider.

Bear Stearns analysts said the Brownback bill was the lesser of two evils.

"Considering the intent of the original bill was a) increased fines, b) potential license revocation, c) a one-year delay of FCC's June 2, 2003 rules and d) expansion of indecency into cable networks, the outcome is not bad," a Bear Stearns research note stated. "The impact on the creative process, which will no doubt be altered by an increased fine regime, is unknown at this time. Expect a court challenge soon."