May 13, 1995 in Nation/World

Porn Bill Vetoed, But Override Likely Bill Intended To Keep Sexually Explicit Material From Minors

Hal Spencer Associated Press
 

Calling it censorship, Gov. Mike Lowry on Friday vetoed a measure intended to keep sexually explicit material out of the hands of minors, but the veto faces the strong possibility of an override.

“This bill would have a major stifling effect” on a range of interests, from theater and literature to on-line computer services and AIDS education programs, Lowry told a news conference. He vetoed a similar measure last year.

He was lobbied to veto the bill by groups from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Spokane Civic Theater to rock musicians Krist Novoselic of Nirvana and Roderick Romero of Sky Cries Mary.

The bill was intended to make it easier for prosecutors to file charges against people who display, give or sell sexually explicit material to people younger than 18. But critics contended it was so broadly written that it would amount to censorship of art, music and educational materials.

Legislative leaders said there was a good chance the veto would be overturned. A veto override would require a two-thirds vote of the members present of each house. The measure passed each house by more than enough votes needed to override.

“Overall, I’d say it’s a very, very grim picture” for Lowry, said Senate Law and Justice Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Kent. He said he may seek to craft a measure that Lowry would sign, but an override was just as likely. “We’ll have to see,” he said.

Smith said opponents are “grounded in a paranoid reality, which seems to be pervasive these days. Opponents come up with fanciful scenarios as to the impact of this law.”

Smith said the law’s real intent is clear.

“Right now, if the dirty old man down the street wants to invite your 8-year-old over to show them pornographic movies, that’s not illegal,” he said.

Because the measure is a Senate bill, an override must begin in that chamber.

“There’s no question in my mind that it would be overridden in the House if it gets here,” said Rep. Larry Sheahan, R-Rosalia, the Republican chamber’s law and justice chairman.

Lowry said he hoped lawmakers would not overturn his veto, saying the solution is to toughen sentences against pornographers.

“I will work with the Legislature to strengthen the severity and certainty of punishment for those would even attempt to occasion sexual improprieties upon a child, including dramatically increasing criminal penalties on those who would prey upon innocent victims. That is not what this legislation does,” Lowry said in a statement accompanying his veto.

The measure would have allowed a prosecutor to charge a person with a gross misdemeanor - punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine - for displaying or providing material that was said to appeal to the prurient interest of minors, that is sexually explicit, and that lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors.

The standard for determining harmful material would be material that “an average adult person, applying contemporary community standards, would find, when considered as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest of minors.”

The material could include movies, books, magazines, musical recordings, sexual devices and live performances.

“Going to the core of just some of the problems of the bill, one sees that an art gallery, a dance or theater company, or a family planning clinic, for example, can be prosecuted for material having sexual content if a local prosecutor is so motivated,” said Gerard Sheehan, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.

“While the intention of this bill is honorable, the language will potentially put theater producers, directors and actors either in jeopardy of prosecution or force us to remove such material as ‘West Side Story’ because it deals with interracial, nonmarried sex, or ‘The Crucible’ since it contains adultery,” wrote John Phillips, executive director of the Spokane Civic Theater.


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