Michigan state lawmaker takes concert-rating proposal on the road

Wednesday, March 31, 1999

A Michigan lawmaker, inspired by the shock-rock antics of Marilyn Manson, returned to the site of a controversial concert by the band to promote legislation that would require parental warnings on advertising and tickets for such performances.

State Sen. Dale Shugars, R-Portage, told about 50 community members gathered for a public hearing on March 22 at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo that his bill would give parents a tool to help them decide what concerts would be appropriate for their children.

“It's just about a parent's right to know, pretty much the same way that the recording industry places a warning label on some albums,” said Mark Lemoine, spokesman for Shugars. “We just want them to know that this artist's music may be something to bring to their attention.”

The bill, if passed, would require parental warnings on tickets and advertising for concerts by performers whose albums have earned advisory stickers.

Shugars began pushing versions of the bill in 1997 after some Kalamazoo residents tried to keep Marilyn Manson from playing in their city. Despite their efforts, the band performed. The band is scheduled to perform in nearby Grand Rapids on April 21.

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

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.

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 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 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 who had released albums with 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.

The bill is before the Senate Committee on Local, Urban and State Affairs. Lemoine says he expects the bill to pass the committee and come before the Senate for a vote sometime in April.

During last week's hearing, several music industry officials testified that the bill would create several constitutional problems. The First Amendment, they said, prohibits government from controlling or labeling the content of speech or expression.

“Of the many constitutional problems this bill presents, the most ludicrous is the blatant prior restraint it represents by burdening constitutionally protected music and performances before they even occur with state-mandated requirements and criminal penalties,” said Joel Flatow, government affairs director for RIAA.

“Enactment of this bill will do precisely what the First Amendment prohibits — chill the free expression of artists by affecting both the choice of artists presented by Michigan venues and the choice of songs performed by an artist.”

But Lemoine disagreed, saying the concert labels are merely a logical extension of the RIAA's own parental-advisory program.

“We think it's a matter of consistency in the advertising,” Lemoine said. “If the recording industry is being responsible enough to put parental advisory warnings on albums, then it's appropriate to continue the warnings on concerts or events. After all, a concert is a dramatization of what is contained on the album.”