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House Revives A Golden Oldie: Dirty Lyrics Bill But Legislation Not Expected To Survive Senate Scrutiny

An old proposal to punish merchants who sell minors tapes or CDs deemed to contain dirty lyrics is back, despite unsuccessful efforts at passage stretching back to the Gardner administration.

The House Republican proposal, vetoed once by Democrat Booth Gardner and twice by his successor, Democrat Mike Lowry, likely would meet a similar fate at the hands of Gov. Gary Locke, also a Democrat, if it reached his desk.

But it won’t, predicted Sen. Shirley Winsley, R-Tacoma: “If it even gets to the Senate, we won’t do anything with it.”

The measure, House Bill 1407, passed the House Law and Justice Committee late Thursday with little warning. It also would mean jail or stiff fines for people who supplied minors with other materials deemed obscene, including books, films and live performances.

It passed over the protest of minority Democrats who said it was an assault on First Amendment rights of free speech and a failure by House Republican backers to accept that they lost the fight long ago.

“This is like a broken record that just keeps on playing the same stupid lyric,” said Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle.

The proposal is dated enough that at one time it drew the opposition of the once red-hot grunge band, Nirvana, and its former bassist Krist Novoselic, who came to Olympia to lobby against the proposal.

“If someone deems my music harmful to minors, I have to go to court. I have to pay attorneys’ fees of $200 an hour,” he said at the time. The proposal also has drawn strong opposition from the recording industry and from civil libertarians.

But Rep. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said the proposal never died in the minds of those who support it. “It’s the right thing to do.”The bill, sponsored by House Law and Justice Chairman Larry Sheahan, R-Rosalia, would make it a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine for merchants to provide minors with sound recordings, books, films or live performances “that the average adult person, applying contemporary community standards, would find, when considered as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest of minors.”

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