By John Wagner and Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Hoping to put an embarrassing controversy behind them, budget negotiators from the Maryland General Assembly agreed yesterday to require reports from public universities on their policies on screening pornographic films. But lawmakers stopped short of tying the requirement to state funding.
The move came a day after portions of "Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge" were shown on the University of Maryland campus in defiance of a state senator who threatened to deny $424 million in state operating funds if administrators allowed a full screening of the pornographic movie.
Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Baltimore County), vice chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said the provision was added to the operating budget yesterday in a bid to "take control" of the issue from Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R-Baltimore County), who is continuing to press his objections.
The provision says the General Assembly is "concerned" about the screening of obscene films and asks for reports by Sept. 1 from the University System of Maryland and other public universities in the state about their policies on the subject. The state budget bill typically asks for several dozen reports from various state agencies on issues of interest.
"We think we're taking care of Senator Harris's concerns," Kasemeyer said.
Harris said in an interview, however, that he was prepared to push today for a more restrictive measure when the full Senate debates the state's capital budget. Harris said the measure should restrict construction funds for universities if they do not adopt acceptable policies on pornography by July 1, the start of the state fiscal year.
Harris said he had been negotiating with university officials and seemed surprised by the action taken by members of the House and Senate conference committee on the operating budget, of which he is not a part.
"It's clearly an end-run around me," he said. "I'd be very disappointed if [university officials] were negotiating a weaker provision than what they had already agreed to with me."
Lee Tune, a U-Md. spokesman, said the school would have no comment at this time.
University sophomore Mary Yanik, who helped organize a screening of a portion of the film Monday night, said she was glad that budget negotiators are not attempting to intimidate the university by threatening to withhold money. But, she said, "essentially this would provide a review of the University of Maryland's activities by the legislature, which we don't think is appropriate. It has a huge potential to jeopardize academic freedom."
Monday's showing of about a half-hour of the movie was preceded by a panel discussion on free speech issues. Excerpts of the film that students watched included fight scenes, stormy seas and close-ups of sweaty pirates having orgies.
"I would prefer that the legislature not do this," said Kenton Stalder, a junior who helped organize the event. "Generally when the legislature gets involved with mandating who can say what, how or why, it never turns out good."
But without a funding threat, he said, he would not feel as if the legislators were holding the university hostage.
Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.