Music-labeling measure dies in North Dakota as another is debated in Georgia

Tuesday, February 16, 1999

Four days after the North Dakota Senate killed a music-labeling bill, a Georgia House committee is poised this morning to debate legislation that would criminalize the sale of recordings with warning labels to individuals under age 18.

“We're going to get it through this time,” said the Georgia bill's sponsor Rep. Vernon Jones, D-Decatur.

Jones says he expects HB 104 to clear the House Special Judiciary Committee quickly, as it did last year.

The measure would make it a misdemeanor offense for anyone to sell to minors “any sound recording bearing the parental advisory logo imposed by the Recording Industry Association of America.”

Industry groups have lobbied heavily against such bills, saying they give a voluntary labeling program the force of law. Last session, the Georgia House defeated Jones' proposal by a vote of 86-62, with many members absent. Bills must receive a majority — or 91 votes — to pass the House.

The North Dakota Senate on Feb. 12 nixed a bill similar to Georgia's after some lawmakers expressed concerns that restricting the sale of music to minors might be unconstitutional.

If passed, North Dakota's SB 2384 would have enabled cities to pass ordinances restricting the sale of material that is considered “harmful to minors.” The legislation was aimed at music about sex, violence, suicide, racism, drinking and drug use.

Sen. Rolland Redlin, D-Minot, said he sponsored the bill in the hope that it would encourage parents and children to talk with each other about the implications of violent, explicitly sexual music.

Sen. Marv Mutzenberger, D-Bismarck, said the measure seemed to be “a simple solution to what some see as an ugly situation.” But he called the bill vague and said it could clash with First Amendment free-speech rights.

The North Dakota Senate defeated the bill by a 26-22 vote.

“We applaud the Senate for rejecting this legislation, which had a very overbroad definition of 'harmful to minors' that brought up lots of constitutional questions and also singled out music in a way that would stigmatize it,” said Joel Flatow, government affairs director for the Recording Industry Association of America.

Flatow says he hopes the Georgia House committee will make a similar vote. Several music industry officials including Flatow plan to testify before the committee. Rock band R.E.M. of Athens, Ga., sent a statement to the committee asking it to reject the bill.

But Jones said that the bill wouldn't keep anyone from selling or marketing a recording.

“It just says that if you sell to a minor, you better make sure he's with a parent,” Jones said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.