A D.C. City Council committee approved a measure yesterday that would outlaw the production or distribution of visual materials depicting children engaging in sexual conduct, regardless of whether the materials fit the legal definition of obscenity.

Action on the bill follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this month upholding a New York state law that outlawed the depiction of sex acts involving minors, commonly called "kiddie porn," even if the materials could not be outlawed as obscene.

"I don't see it as a First Amendment issue. I see it as child protection," said council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), chairman of the judiciary committee, which approved the bill yesterday. The bill covers children 16 years of age and under.

The measure, introduced a year ago by council member John Ray (D-At Large), must still be approved by the full council, which has just begun a month-long recess. Clarke and council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) cosponsored the measure.

The bill avoids the legal uncertainties involving sexually obscene material, which have made most pornography laws difficult to enforce. "We all may not know what obscenity is, but we know what sexual conduct is," Clarke said.

Clarke said the Supreme Court, in deciding the New York case, ruled that in cases involving children and sexual conduct, "obscenity does not have to be proved. Sexual conduct is enough."

"One of my concerns was that child pornography was moving this way," said Ray. "With stiffer laws in New York, Washington, D.C., was the next stop."

Ray said police officials here have told him there currently is little production of child pornography in Washington, but that the number of films and magazines being distributed is increasing.

"I see it as a form of child abuse," said Ray. "What you have is people taking young children and putting them through all kinds of incredible acts."

Under the bill, persons convicted of producing or distributing such materials, or encouraging children to participate in them, would be subject to fines up to $5,000 and 10-year jail terms for first offenses. Subsequent convictions would carry fines of up to $15,000 and prison terms of up to 20 years.

The judiciary committee, in a public hearing on the bill last November, heard testimony that children used in sexually explicit materials can suffer from "deep psychological and humiliating impact."