- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

A House Judiciary panel approved child-pornography legislation yesterday designed to circumvent the Supreme Court's decision allowing computer simulations of children having sex.

House Republican leaders have put the bill which was drafted by the Justice Department and Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican on the fast-track. The full House Judiciary Committee is expected to consider the measure next week, with a House floor vote expected the following week.

The measure was approved by Mr. Smith's Judiciary crime subcommittee yesterday, but the panel's top Democrat, Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia, said the new bill is just as unconstitutional as the law struck down by the Supreme Court April 16.

Mr. Smith, in contrast, said the bill "addresses the concerns of the Supreme Court and prevents child molesters from using child pornography as a tool to victimize children."

In the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and the panel's ranking Republican, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah, are working together on their own bill to respond to the Supreme Court's decision.

The 1996 law struck down by the Supreme Court prohibited the distribution and possession of child pornography that appeared to but did not depict real children. It was aimed at pornography that uses computer-generated images. The court, in a 6-3 ruling, said the law violated the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech.

"This decision will have a devastating effect on the prosecution of child pornographers who are often child molesters," Mr. Smith said yesterday.

Mr. Smith said the court found the existing statute was too sweeping, in part because the images in question could actually depict adults or older teens, not children.

He said his bill is limited to prepubescent children, 12 years old or younger, to address the court's concern.

His bill also addresses the court's concern that the statute used overly broad language in describing the images, Mr. Smith said.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court said the existing law could have been used to ban modern versions of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," award-winning movies such as "Traffic" and "American Beauty," and even cartoon sketches.

Mr. Smith's bill would be limited to computer-generated images and would define them as any image that "is or is nearly indistinguishable from" a child engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The definition of sexually explicit conduct also would be narrowed.

Supporters of the measure say it is crucial to preventing child pornographers from getting away with their crime by arguing there is no proof the images they distribute depict real children.

Under the bill, defendants would have to prove real children were not involved in the production of the image in order to avoid prosecution.

Mr. Scott objected to this, saying that it unfairly shifts the burden of proof.

"So at the end of the day, if you don't know whether children were involved or not, he's guilty," Mr. Scott said.

The panel adopted by voice vote a substitute amendment by Mr. Smith that tightened some wording in the bill and made technical changes.

Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, was successful in stripping from the bill a section that would have allowed the development of a database to aid police in identifying pornography that uses real children. The database would have contained pornographic images and information about the children in them which Mr. Barr said would only hurt the children a second time by violating their privacy.

"I believe this database is far too intrusive," he said. "Victims especially child victims deserve all the privacy protections this government can extend."

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