Louisiana yesterday became the first state to pass a bill requiring that warnings of explicit lyrics be placed on record album covers. The legislation, passed by the state Senate 28 to 9, also forbids the sale of such records to minors.

The bill, which passed the state House in May by a vote of 95 to 5, goes to Gov. Buddy Roemer Monday for his signature. Roemer has taken no position on the bill.

Targeted in the legislation are lyrics that advocate or encourage sex, substance abuse, violence and other subjects potentially "harmful to minors." Under the law, which would go into effect Jan. 1, 1992, retailers, distributors and manufacturers who sell a labeled album to "an unmarried person under the age of 17" could be fined up to $1,000 and jailed up to six months. The sale of unlabeled recordings to minors could bring civil fines of up to $5,000 for producers as well as manufacturers and distributors.

The record labeling bill will face court challenges from several music industry groups, which have also suggested an economic boycott of the state. Should it be signed into law by Roemer, "we will immediately institute a lawsuit on constitutional grounds," said Trish Heimers, spokeswoman for the Recording Industry Association of America. An RIAA lawyer, David Leibowitz, said he would also challenge the bill's "vagueness in trying to determine what is or is not 'advocating' or 'encouraging' the kinds of behavior that are the subjects of the legislation." The National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) and the National Association of Independent Record Dealers (NAIRD) also said they would challenge the bill in court.

Along with the recent Florida obscenity ruling against the rap group the 2 Live Crew, the Louisiana vote marks a reversal of fortunes for the recording industry, which had seen labeling initiatives in 20 states defeated, withdrawn or put on hold. It marks another chapter in a continuing series of First Amendment debates ranging from attacks on the National Endowment for the Arts to filmmakers' lawsuits against the Motion Picture Association of America over its X ratings.

One sponsor of the bill called it "a vote for morality in America." At a recent press conference, it was endorsed by the Louisiana district attorneys' and sheriffs' associations. It also has the support of the Louisiana Catholic Conference, the State Assemblies of God, the Inner Church Council and the Louisiana Morality and Civic Foundation.

Floyd Abrams, an expert on constitutional law, said yesterday that he thought the statute went beyond the question of obscenity and challenged "non-obscene but sexually oriented work... . It seems Louisiana is well on the way to violating the Constitution."

This year, the Louisiana legislature has passed the nation's most restrictive abortion bill and is waiting to vote on a bill that would roll back affirmative action programs and another that would remove criminal penalties against people who assault flag burners.

Asked how retailers and consumers will know what is proscribed, particularly on unlabeled recordings, state Rep. Ted Haik, the Democrat who introduced the bill, said that "if a citizen complains about it, {it will be brought} to a sheriff or district attorney and they'll look at it and listen to it, and decide whether to file charges. If a record has as its basic theme the advocating or encouraging of rape, incest, suicide, homicide, bestiality, sadomasochism, prostitution, unlawful ritualistic acts, drug or alcohol abuse, then the district attorney will have a trial."

Reaction from record store owners, already edgy over the 2 Live Crew obscenity ruling in Florida, was intense. George Berry, owner of Raccoon Records in Lafayette, said: "First they wanted to put me in jail, now they want to put me out of business... . There is no way a major record company is going to try to figure out which records have to carry Ted Haik's label just to keep {Louisiana's small} market share. They'll just stop doing business with us."

Even before the bill was passed, music industry groups had threatened to cancel planned events: The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences said it would no longer consider New Orleans as a site for the Grammy Hall of Fame, and NARM and NAIRD indicated they would move annual conventions scheduled in New Orleans the next two years to other states.

RIAA head Jay Berman suggested an informal economic boycott of Louisiana in which "recording artists, songwriters, music publishers, record companies and distributors may choose ... not to subject themselves to the risk that they will have violated the act."

Though the law does not go into effect until 1992, "we feel it would have an immediate chilling effect on the creation, production and distribution of music in the state of Louisiana," said the RIAA's Heimers. "How can an artist possibly write with the specter of arrest and fines hanging over his head for fear that his lyrics may be misinterpreted? This law will severely curtail the creative process."

One of Louisiana's most prominent bands, the New Orleans-based Neville Brothers, issued a statement in Paris this week calling Haik's legislation "racist" and stating that it "would be difficult to perform in a state which doesn't permit free speech."

Haik dismissed the threats of a boycott as "a 30-pieces-of-silver threat that has very little to do with trash lyrics and everything to do with hollow threats by the record industry."