Michigan concert bill goes to Senate floor

Friday, May 22, 1998

A Michigan state senator sponsoring a bill that would allow cities and towns to declare certain concerts “harmful to minors” said he will back off temporarily to give venue operators an opportunity to offer an alternative plan.

“We have agreed to hold back on this bill while we continue to meet with venue operators and Ticketmaster to talk about counterproposals that are acceptable to them and achieves our desired end,” said Mark Michaelsen, spokesman for bill sponsor Dale Shugars, R-Portage.

“Sometimes you just have to take a 2-by-4 and hit it over their heads to get their attention,” Michaelsen said. “That's what this bill does.”

Shugars' announcement comes after the Senate's Families, Mental Health and Human Services Committee voted 3-1 on Thursday to send the concert bill to the full Senate for a vote. The bill has not yet been considered by the House.

The bill would allow Michigan cities and towns to designate certain music performances as “harmful to minors.” To attend, concert-goers under 18 would have to be accompanied by an adult, not necessarily a parent or legal guardian as originally proposed.

The bill also would require local officials to give “reasonable notice” to a venue operator that an upcoming performance has been deemed “harmful to minors.” The committee determined that the bill's 30-day notice was insufficient for large venues such as stadiums, which often book concerts a year in advance.

The venue owner could face misdemeanor charges punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a $5,000 fine or both if a minor attends the concert without an adult.

Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, denounced the bill saying it creates prior restraint.

“The bill does not merely improperly target protected expression, it actually stifles expression before it happens,” Rosen said in a letter to committee chair Joel Gougeon, R-Bay City. “The gravity of such a restriction is obvious: Conditioning expression on government's review of that expression empowers the government to control what its citizens can and cannot hear.”

But Shugars said the bill isn't about prior restraint but about concert decency. He said the bill falls in line with existing Michigan laws that forbid anyone under 18 to go into a tanning booth, get a body piercing or tattoo without parental permission.

“This legislation empowers parents by giving them more information about performers,” he said in a written statement. “We are helping them make informed choices about factors outside their homes that may influence their kids.”

“It is shameful that elected officials can have so little regard for the rights of young Americans,” said Nina Crowley, executive director of the Massachusetts Music Industry Coalition. “Hopefully we will find more support for our First Amendment rights on the floor of the Senate than we've seen in this committee.”