Brownback Ready to Push Higher Fee Cap

Nov 15, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Hoping to dramatically raise the stakes for airing off-color programming, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., is expected to try to resurrect a legislative amendment this week that would increase the cap on fines for indecent broadcasts from $32,500 to $500,000, industry sources said.

As of late last week, a spokesman for the senator said it was unclear what other provisions would be included in the legislation or what the lawmaker’s exact legislative strategy would be.

But in addition to raising the cap on fines, a bill that Sen. Brownback introduced before the elections would also clear the way for the Federal Communications Commission to fine a group broadcaster up to $3 million for indecencies aired within a 24-hour period and allow the agency to force on-air performers to pay penalties for violations.

Other provisions would direct the FCC to consider a station’s size and financial wherewithal when assessing fines, set timelines for FCC actions on indecency complaints and call for the National Association of Broadcasters to establish a family-viewing policy.

According to the senator’s spokesman at the time, co-sponsors of the measure included Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

When the measure failed to win a vote before the elections, the senator made clear that he would try again when Congress returned for its post-election lame duck session that officially begins Nov. 16.

Said the lawmaker’s spokesman last week, “Sen. Brownback is hopeful that this legislation will be considered in the lame-duck session or early in January but the legislative vehicle is unclear at this time.”

During the lame-duck session, lawmakers are also expected to consider national security legislation that includes a controversial provision that would require 75 TV stations operating on Channels 63, 64, 68 and 69 to clear their frequencies for public safety use as of Jan. 1, 2008.

The provision was the result of a legislative compromise that the National Association of Broadcasters used to derail a bill that would have required all broadcasters to vacate their analog channels by Jan. 1, 2009.

If the provision is ultimately approved, it would be particularly bad news for Paxson Communications, which says that five of its 61 TV stations could be forced off the air.

But a key industry source last week said it was unclear whether the measure would pass this week because lawmakers in the House and Senate have yet to forge a mutually acceptable compromise on the non-broadcasting provisions of their national security bills.

Also pending is legislation that would set the ground rules for satellite TV carriage of broadcast signals.