Michigan senator dilutes concert bill

Tuesday, June 16, 1998

The Michigan state senator sponsoring a concert-rating bill plans to ditch the measure's “minors must be accompanied by an adult” clause in favor of a parental advisory warning on concerts local officials deem “harmful to minors.”

The advisory, “Warning: This performance may be harmful to minors,” would be included on tickets and advertising.

“I suspect, with this … expanded parental advisory warning, that we could probably get this out of the Senate,” said Mark Michaelsen, spokesman for Sen. Dale Shugars, R-Portage, who sponsored the bill.

Shugars' original bill 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.

The new bill merely requires the venue operator to place the warning on all tickets and advertising for the “harmful” performance.

Venue owners could face misdemeanor charges punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a $5,000 fine or both if they failed to attach the warning.

Shugars successfully steered the original version of the legislation through the Michigan Senate's Families, Mental Health and Human Services Committee last month. But the senator hesitated in pushing for a full Senate vote to allow venue operators and others time to offer alternative proposals.

Earlier this month, Shugars met with venue operators, the American Civil Liberties Union, officials with the Recording Industry Association of America, Ticketmaster and rocker Ted Nugent.

In a commentary in the Detroit Free Press written with Wendy Wagenheim of the Michigan ACLU, Nugent said Shugars' original bill had serious First Amendment problems.

“It is the responsibility of parents to know what their children are doing and to give permission for their children to attend concerts,” Nugent wrote. “This legislation would have chilling effect on the free expression of entertainers, forcing them to perform that which is only suitable for children.”

After the meeting, Shugars redrafted his bill to focus on the warning. Michaelson said venue operators and others have yet to submit a counter-proposal, but he said he thinks the substitute measure will satisfy them.

“Now they won't have to check the IDs of 50,000 concert-goers and gum up the works of getting people in and out,” Michaelsen said. “[The operators] probably won't be so upset about this because there are a number of venues that have already been proposing this.”

Even the redrafted bill poses a lot of problems, said executive director Hugh Lombardi of Palace Sports and Entertainment, which manages The Palace of Auburn Hills, Pine Knob Music Theater and the Meadowbrook Music Festival.

“I guess some of the concerns are: What are they going to base it on? A performance 25 years ago? One album?” Lombardi said. “I think there's a lot of stuff that has to be talked about before you pass legislation.”

Lombardi said he wondered how local officials could monitor all of the concerts fairly.

“Are they going to do their homework?” he asked. “We'll do over 100 concerts this summer. Are they going to be able to handle that load?”

Lombardi said that if a local council labels a concert it essentially is speaking for everybody else in the state because many concert-goers come from long distances to see big-name acts.

“I think like a lot of things, the industry should police themselves,” he said. “I think we do a good job of that now.”

Shugars plans to meet with venue operators again this week. Michaelsen said the senator will offer the revised bill on June 25 when the Senate returns from a summer recess.

In related news, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee plans to hear testimony today for its hearing “Labels and Lyrics: Do Parental Advisory Labels Inform Consumers and Parents?”

Music industry officials said chairman Sen. Sam Brownback, the Kansas Republican who arranged the hearing, unfairly stacked the witness panel against the recording industry. All of the four announced witnesses, including a teacher from Jonesboro, Ark., are prepared to denounce the current parental advisory warning program adopted by the Recording Industry Association of American.

Joel Flatow, governmental affairs director for the RIAA, said Brownback failed to include musicians, music advocates and First Amendment scholars among today's witnesses.

“That was our big thing last time around … that there are a lot of voices that have to be heard,” Flatow said. “I'm not sure that has been followed.”