Michigan senator offers concert-restriction bill

Wednesday, April 29, 1998

Gwen Stefani, r...
Gwen Stefani, right, of No Doubt.
A Michigan state senator today plans to offer a bill that authorizes cities and towns there the ability to declare certain concerts “harmful to minors,” thereby allowing local officials to require anyone under 18 to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Sen. Dale Shugars, R-Portage, announced his proposal Tuesday before a coalition of Kalamazoo residents who signed petitions last year to keep shock-rocker Marilyn Manson from playing in their city. Despite the coalition's efforts, the band performed.

But with Shugars' bill, local officials would have the ability to restrict access to concerts deemed “harmful to minors.”

The bill has already come under fire from several in the music industry who say it violates First Amendment rights of minors and the performers. They say such proposals and rating systems create a system of prior restraint.

The band No Doubt, in a prepared statement, called concert ratings “inaccurate, unreliable and completely unjust.”

“The artistic expression that comes from any artist during each live performance is unique every time,” the band wrote. “That's the beauty of playing live!”

But Mark Michaelsen, Shugars' spokesman, said referring to the bill as a “concert-ratings” one is inaccurate.

“We're not talking about PG, R or X ratings,” he said. “This is more about concert decency.

“There's a small subsection of performers that really are so vile they really aren't suitable for children, adults or anyone else,” he said. “By indecency we're talking about filthy language, nudity, actual or simulated sex on stage.”

Michaelsen said Shugars' bill falls right in line with other Michigan laws that forbid anyone under 18 to go into a tanning booth, get a body piercing or tattoo without parental permission.

Michaelsen said Shugar took “pains for the bill not to be in a repressive, non-First Amendment environment. We think of this as a parental involvement issue, not one stifling free speech.

“We're not saying what these acts can or cannot do,” he said. “We're just saying some shows are not appropriate for unaccompanied minors. These kids, if this bill goes into effect, could still go as long as they have parents with them.”

Michaelsen said the bill also places authority strictly with local officials. He stressed that the bill, if passed, won't force any community to adopt such standards.

According to the bill, local officials must give the venue owner at least a 30-day notice that an upcoming performance has been deemed “harmful to minors.” The concert promoter must then note the restriction on the back of tickets and in all advertisements.

The venue owner could face misdemeanor charges punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a $5,000 fine or both if minors attend the concert without their parents.

Michaelsen said the law will not be enforced if the venue owner can produce a written contract with the performer that the concert will contain nothing “harmful to minors.”

“Then it's 'Nevermind,'” he said. “We don't want to do prior restraint of anything that's not going to be indecent anyway.”