Michigan Senate approves concert bill

Friday, May 28, 1999

The Michigan Senate this week approved a bill that will, if it passes the House and garners approval from the governor, require parental warnings on tickets and advertising for concerts by performers whose albums have earned advisory stickers.

The Senate's 25-11 vote on May 25 to approve the bill surprised many music-rights activists, who thought the measure would fail as it had twice before. They attributed the change to reaction surrounding the April 20 school shooting in Littleton, Colo.

“Two months ago there was not enough support in the Michigan Senate to pass this bill,” said Nina Crowley, director of the Massachusetts Music Industry Coalition. “It is now clear, however, that post-Littleton hysteria has eradicated all rational thought.”

Mark Lemoine, spokesman for bill sponsor state Sen. Dale Shugars, R-Portage, wasn't available for comment. But he has said in past interviews that Shugars' rewrote the bill to eliminate concerns about musicians' free-expression rights.

Two previous efforts by Shugars to pass a concert-labeling bill have failed.

Shugars' original bill — introduced in 1997 after some Kalamazoo residents tried to prevent Marilyn Manson from playing in their city — would have allowed Michigan cities and towns to designate certain music performances as “harmful to minors.” To attend, concert-goers under 18 would have had to be accompanied by an adult.

Under pressure from venue operators, the music industry and the American Civil Liberties Union, Shugars reworked the bill so that it would require the venue operator only to place the warning on all tickets and advertising for the “harmful” performance. This bill also failed.

The new bill, Senate Bill 239, doesn't specify the exact advisory label concert promoters must use. But Lemoine has said that the bill would require promoters to use the parental-advisory logo from the Recording Industry Association of America's voluntary program.

The bill would affect only those artists whose albums have carried parental advisory labels in the five years preceding a performance. Venue operators and promoters could face misdemeanor charges punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a $5,000 fine or both if they failed to attach the advisory label.

In past interviews, Lemoine said that the bill wouldn't restrict speech but would only provide an advisory tool for parents.

Crowley said such comments echo those from U.S. government officials in 1985 when they urged the Recording Industry Association of America to adopt parental advisory warnings. She said that within two months of the introduction of the stickers, federal lawmakers attempted to criminalize the sale of “stickered” albums to those under 18. Congress has yet to pass such laws.

“By 1990, 16 states were considering similar legislation,” Crowley said in a note e-mailed to the First Amendment Center. “It is likely that censors nationwide will jump at the chance to use the passage of [this bill] as a stepping stone to criminalizing rock concerts.”