Pornography has been the target of a spate of legislative and judicial actions taken in recent weeks. Just before Congress adjourned for its August recess, the Senate passed an amendment ensuring serious punishment for child-pornography offenses. If adopted, the Helms-Thurmond Amendment to a treasury-and postal-appropriations bill would strengthen the penalties leveled against those convicted of receipt, transportation, and possession of child pornography.

Sponsors say the measure is crucial because of new guidelines issued by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Those proposed guidelines would lower the penalty for receipt and transportation of child pornography, so that in many cases those convicted would receive only probation. Unless Congress acts, the guidelines will go into effect November 1. A conference committee will take up the amendment later this month during their efforts to reconcile differing versions of the appropriations bill.

“If this [amendment] doesn’t go through, child-porn prosecutions are finished,” said Deen Kaplan, vice-president of public policy for the National Coalition Against Pornography (NCAP). “You’re not going to find U.S. attorneys or other federal law-enforcement officials who are going to make significant effort … if the best they can get out of it is a slap on the wrists.”

Also before it recessed, the Senate granted a hearing to the “Pornography Victims’ Compensation Act,” which would allow plaintiffs to sue the producers, distributors, and sellers of pornographic material that has been shown to have incited sexual crimes. In explaining the bill, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Ia.), chief sponsor of the measure, said, “Our Supreme Court decided long ago that obscenity and child pornography are not ...

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