Washington State Targets `Obscene' Lyrics

New law aims to stop minors from buying explicit recordings

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

STATE legislators here are in a no-nonsense mood about what they deem as obscene lyrics in pop music.

Gov. Booth Gardner (D) approved legislation last Friday banning the sale and distribution of "erotic" sound recordings to minors. The bill becomes law June 13.

The action by Governor Gardner came two weeks after the House passed the Senate-amended bill 89-7. The measure expands the state's current law, which bans sales to minors of erotic printed material, photographs, or movies.

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"We are disappointed with the governor signing this bill," said Jerry Sheehan, legislative director for Washington State's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The bill also received widespread opposition from the arts community.

Legislation targeting music lyrics is pending in Illinois and Missouri, while states such as Arizona, Michigan, and New York are seeking to tighten their obscenity laws, according to Variety magazine.

Washington's approach places audio sounds under existing laws governing the sale to minors of visually obscene material. The state defines erotic material as that which appeals to prurient interests and is without socially redeeming value. Senate amendments would allow retailers to be protected from prosecution if the minor is accompanied by a parent or guardian while making the purchase.

A lobbyist for the recording industry testified during hearings that major labels had little trouble with the bill. But record buyers and independent labels have vigorously opposed it.

Grant Alden, managing editor of the Rocket, a Seattle music magazine, says the bill is forcing government intervention in the home. "This is fundamentally a problem at the parental level, not the government level," Mr. Alden says.

State Rep. Dick King (D) proposed the legislation after a mother in his district complained that her four-year-old son used foul language after listening to music bought by teenagers. Mr. King said the state's definition of "erotic" is narrower than the US Supreme Court's definition of obscene and is confident the bill would withstand a constitutional challenge.

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