The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, with little ceremony but much ado, today killed this legislative session's most talked-about bill, a measure that would have banned the sale to minors of records with lyrics considered obscene.
The 7-to-4 vote came in a packed committee room and in the glare of television lights as some committee members complained that the seriousness of this and other issues affecting children had been obscured by the attention given the bill. Last month's Senate hearing attracted rock musician Frank Zappa, who was feted at a reception the day before he testified against the measure.
"To make such a carnival-like atmosphere out of this bill and not concentrate on bills that have more effect on our children, like the child-abuse bills that came before this committee, is to do a disservice," said Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad (D-Anne Arundel).
Winegrad voted against the bill, as did committee chairman Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), who has called the proposal "the worst bill this session."
But the bill, sponsored by Del. Judith Toth (D-Montgomery), did have supporters, including Sen. Margaret Schweinhaut (D-Montgomery). "We're spending millions of dollars to clean up pollution in our bay, and yet we pollute the minds of young children," she said.
"Some lyrics dealing with suicide, rape and incest have no place in our society at all," said Sen. Thomas Yeager (D-Howard), who also voted for the bill.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Owens (D-Montgomery) guided the bill to House approval in February after declaring that obscene lyrics constitute "mass child abuse."
But Senate judicial committee member Barbara Hoffman (D-Baltimore) argued that extending the state's existing obscenity statute to recorded matter would interfere with parental responsibility.
Hoffman, who said she received more phone calls on the bill than ever before on a piece of legislation, complained that many of the callers were "extremely intolerant" of her views. Her son Michael testified against the measure at the public hearing.
"They were saying I was going to go to hell," Hoffman said. "People who are afraid of words scare me." Outlawing the sale of records, she said, borders on censorship.
"What your society may choose to ban may be my bible," she said.