By a 15-to-0 vote, the Senate Commerce Committee, in what may be its last hurrah under Democratic leadership, yesterday easily passed industry-supported legislation that would extend television and radio licenses from three to five years.
The vote came with little debate as Congress moved to close its current session by the end of the week, leaving the fate of the legislation uncertain.
Action on the licensing proposal came in the form of an amendment to relatively noncontroversial legislation sent to the Senate from the House that would place into law Federal Communications Commission rules on newspaper ownership of broadcasting outlets.
But the addition of the extension of license terms and another provision which revises the standards for radio and television license renewals -- part of a package proposed by Sen. Ernest Holings (D-S.C.), the outgoing chairman of the Communications Subcommittee -- has been opposed by citizen group representatives.
"The greatest irony is that this legislation would severely curtail competition in the broadcast industry," said Andrew Schwartzman of the Media Access Group. "I hope that the incoming Congress, which is said to be in favor of free enterprise, will be much more resistant to greedy special interests who have rammed this legislation through an all-too-complacent lame-duck committee."
Rep. Al Swift (D-Wash.), the author of the legislation, which easily passed the House earlier in the session, has warned that the House won't accept changes in his bill.
The committee staff was attempting to file a report on the legislation late yesterday. Although there is typically a three-day waiting period before such legislation can be taken up by the full Senate, that rule can be waived.