The Maryland House of Delegates, by a margin of greater than 3 to 1, approved a bill today that would ban the sale to minors of records with lyrics considered to be obscene.
Obscene lyrics are "probably the worst kind of child abuse we've got," said Del. Joseph Owens (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which annually kills child abuse legislation but narrowly approved this bill.
"This is mass child abuse," said Owens, who during floor debate said he had never listened to the kind of music described in testimony as objectionable. "That's what it is. This is slime affecting children."
The measure bans such sales to anyone younger than 18.
The bill's fate in the Senate is unclear. State Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), who heads the Senate committee that would take up the bill, said earlier this week that "as the father of four teen-agers, I think it's the worst bill this session."
Barely an hour before the 93-to-31 House vote, the State Senate overwhelmingly approved a package of child abuse bills that would, among other things, allow courts to accept a child's out-of-court statement in prosecuting an accused child abuser. Those bills now go to Owens' Judiciary Committee for further hearings.
Obscene lyric proposals such as Maryland's first angered musicians and industry representatives last summer when Susan Baker, the wife of Treasury Secretary James Baker, and Tipper Gore, wife of Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.), introduced the subject during hearings on Capitol Hill.
Frank Zappa, a rock musician known for his ribald lyrics, testified at those hearings and said this week that Maryland's action smacks of McCarthyism.
"People are trying to create an illusion that music is pornographic and that musicians are pornographers," he said in a telephone interview from Miami, where he is filming an episode of "Miami Vice." "I don't think that's logical at all. I don't think there's a very good reason for it except politics."
The House debated and passed the bill, sponsored by Del. Judith Toth (D-Montgomery), as gold-jacketed high school students serving as pages in the chamber gasped on the sidelines.
"I'm 17," said Richard Nesler of District Heights, a member of the enraged group. "I can go into D.C. and buy records. Or you can get anybody to buy them for you."
Critics of the bill say it does not define clearly what is illicit or obscene. But Toth, who said she patterned the bill after the efforts made by the Parents Music Resource Center on Capitol Hill last summer, today assailed those critics.
"We're not talking about references to sex," she said angrily. "We're talking about references to incest that say: 'Do it kids, it's fine.' "
A New York spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America said that bills such as Maryland's also are under consideration in West Virginia and New Jersey. Trish Heimers of the association said that her organization does not plan to battle the bill in the Senate.
But that battle may already have been won. "I wasn't even going to give it a hearing, frankly," Miller said. "If listening to rock 'n' roll music with unfavorable lyrics was the only thing my kids did that was bad, I would consider myself successful."
Voting to approve the obscene recordings bill:
From Prince George's County: Gary Alexander (D), William Bevan (D), Susan Buswell (D), Gerard Devlin (D), Dennis Donaldson (D), Christine Jones (D), Pauline Menes (D), Thomas Mooney (R), Richard Palumbo (D), Jerry Perry (D), Frank Pesci (D), Joan Pitkin (D), Frederick Rummage (D), Charles Ryan (D), Francis Santangelo (D), Joseph Vallario (D).
From Montgomery County: Mary Boergers (D), Gene Counihan (D), Constance Morella (R), Jennie Forehand (D), Idamae Garrott (D), Marilyn Goldwater (D), Michael Gordon (D), Jerry Hyatt (D), Diane Kirchenbauer (D), Robert Kittleman (R), Lucille Maurer (D), Joseph Owens (D), Ida Ruben (D), Judith Toth (D).
Voting against the obscene recordings bill:
From Prince George's County: David Bird (D), Marian Patterson (D), Albert Wynn (D).
From Montgomery County: Joel Chasnoff (D), Sheila Hixson (D), Edward Kasemeyer (D), Helen Koss (D), Donald Robertson (D), Patricia Sher (D).
Not voting, from Prince George's: Nathaniel Exum (D), Timothy Maloney (D), William McCaffrey (D), Sylvania Woods (D); from Montgomery: Nancy Kopp (D)