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Sunday July 9, 1995

Most area legislators
oppose amendment

By Timothy C. Barmann

The "Communications Decency Act" proposed by Sen. James Exon, D-Neb., passed overwhelmingly in the Senate last month. However, most congressional legislators who represent Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts oppose it. Here's how our senators voted and how our representatives, who will debate the issue this month, view the amendment.

Rhode Island

Sen. John H. Chafee (R) - voted against: "Anyone who knows me knows I'm not for that kind of thing," Chafee said of obscene material on the Internet. But he opposes the Exon amendment.

"I start off with a very deep skepticism of the federal government judging what is decent and what is indecent," Chafee said by telephone.

He said his vote was also "influenced heavily by the fact that the Justice Department has indicated it believes this legislation will thwart its enforcement of existing laws on child pornography."

Sen. Claiborne Pell (D) - voted for: "I believe we need to protect our children from purveyors of hard-core pornography, whether the communications take place on computers, phone lines, or by mail," Pell said in a statement.

"Cyberspace is the newest communications frontier and, quite simply, this amendment extends the laws which currently apply to lascivious or indecent telephone use and use of the mail."

Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D) - opposes: "No one wants children exposed to or threatened by pornography," said Kennedy in a statement. "The newness of the Internet makes it difficult to establish regulations that are fair and practical.

"The Exon Amendment, while well-intentioned, will not stand up in court. It will end up limiting speech that could offend but is not pornography and not intended for children."

Rep. Jack Reed (D) - opposes: The amendment is "slapdash, thrown together" legislation that "appeals to a natural interest," he said in a phone interview. "But it's not built on a very strong foundation or understanding of existing technologies and the existing frameworks of laws."


Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) - voted against: "While the amendment is well- intentioned, it is too sweeping and threatens the First Amendment rights of those who use computer networks," said Kennedy in an e-mail response about the issue he sent to constituents. "Users of on-line services, content providers, electronic publishers and journalists face excessive restrictions on speech and private communications under this legislation.

". ..More effective methods than this legislation are available to assist parents who are concerned that on-line material may be offensive or inappropriate for children . .."

Sen. John F. Kerry (D) - voted for: "It is vital that we continue to protect the First Amendment in new applications, like the Internet, as we have done in print and broadcast media," Kerry said in a statement. "But it is also vital that we protect our children.

". ..We will confront situations where these two principles appear to be in conflict." Congress must resolve these conflicts and "the Exon Amendment as passed on the Senate floor was a responsible effort do to exactly that."

Rep. Peter Blute (R) - opposes: Robert Gray, Blute's press secretary, said the congressman "hasn't had a chance to review the whole Exon amendment extensively." But "he thinks it may go a little too far," said Gray. "He thinks there should be unlimited access for adults but access for minors should be limited.

"The technology is expanding so rapidly that we may be able to come up with a solution better than the Exon amendment."

Rep. Barney Frank (D) - opposes: "I think it's a bad idea," Frank said by telephone. "It's government intrusion into people's private lives and it shouldn't happen.

"Adults should be exercising supervision over their children . ..I suspect it's a lot more difficult (to implement) than Mr. Exon thinks. I'm not Bill Gates, but he isn't either."

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff photographer. His column runs every other Sunday on the On Line page. Send him comments via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com or U.S. mail, c/o the Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.