The Maryland state legislature is considering a bill that would make it a crime, punishable by a fine or jail term, to sell records, tapes or laser discs with state-determined obscenity values to anyone under 18.
The bill would force retailers to segregate materials along the lines of X-rated videocassettes or explicit magazines. Young consumers would need identification to buy such material. Under the measure, introduced in the Maryland Assembly's Judiciary Committee by state Del. Judith Toth (D-Montgomery) in early January, first-time penalties would be a maximum $1,000 fine or a year in jail, while repeat offenses could bring $5,000 fines and three years in jail.
If the bill passes before the Maryland legislature adjourns on April 7, it will be the first such state law in the nation.
Toth says that House Bill 111 simply amends Maryland's existing codes prohibiting the sale of pornographic materials to minors. "It's a very old section of the code, and it's generally covered magazines and books," Toth said. "Two years ago I added to that section of the code videotapes and video discs, and that passed both houses with no problems. It's now illegal to sell or rent [X-rated] videotapes to minors."
A hearing on the measure was held Jan. 14, but no one testified in opposition to the bill. Toth said hearing notices were sent to the media, but a number of area record dealers say they had no foreknowledge of the hearing. Joel Goldberg, vice president of Kemp Mill Records, a local chain with 12 stores in Maryland, said yesterday, "I don't know about this legislation. I'll have to look into it."
"I don't know where this bill dovetails with the optional labeling process," added David Blaine, general manager of the Waxie Maxie's chain, which has 13 stores in Maryland. Blaine calls the bill "a repulsive concept. As a retailer, what causes me to be concerned is that much of what I sell could come under unreasonable scrutiny in terms of content."
A spokesman from the National Association of Record Merchandisers said that a mailgram and letters were sent to members apprising them of the contents of the bill -- but only after the hearing took place.
Stanley Gortikov, president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), said that "because of the patterns of the recording industry, it's very difficult to particularize an industry response to a given state. Had I heard about it sufficiently in advance, I would have arranged to at least introduce a statement, but I didn't hear about it until after the hearing was over."
Toth, who was in contact during the summer with the Parents Music Resource Center ("They provided us with an awful lot of material"), said she decided that Maryland "would be ideal place" for such a law. "It's consistant with our past actions on pornography."
She added that such legislative action is a supplement to the November accord between the PMRC, National PTA and the RIAA.
"I understand the intent of that bill is to respond to explicit content in recordings," said the RIAA's Gortikov. "I really feel that the action that the industry undertook a few months ago in respect to [voluntary] identification, labeling and lyrics imprinting positively responds to parental concerns and should meet the concerns of the people in Maryland, as well."
That's not enough, according to Toth. "What we're saying is, okay, the label will be on there, and there's pressure on the industry to tell the retailers what's okay and what isn't. Now the retailers must enforce that and not sell those records" to minors.