Government Report: March 1, 2007

Contents:

Tobacco Bill Clears Senate HELP Committee
The Senate Help, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has given its approval to legislation that would drastically alter tobacco advertising regulation. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (S. 625), introduced by HELP Committee Chairman Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., contains several provisions opposed by advertisers. The bill proposes additional warning labels on tobacco advertising, limiting most magazine and store ads to black-and-white text and prohibiting outdoor ads within 1,000 feet of schools or playgrounds. The AAF sent a letter to Sen. Kennedy expressing opposition to the marketing provisions of the bill, arguing that it is unconstitutional to censor nondeceptive advertising for legal products directed at appropriate audiences. A copy of the letter is available here (pdf).
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House Commerce Chairman Expresses Digital Television Transition Concerns
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., has expressed concerns about the ability of the Federal Communications Commission to oversee the logistics of distributing digital-to-analog converter boxes to consumers receiving over-the-air television broadcasts. As part of the digital television transition legislation signed into law last year, the government plans to distribute converter boxes to all Americans without cable or satellite television subscriptions before the digital transition is completed, which is scheduled for February 17, 2009. Dingell said he thought the target date might not be realistic and warned that consumers might not be quick adopters of converter boxes, especially if they are too expensive.
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FCC Commissioner Tate Calls for Increased Media Ownership Diversity
Federal Communications Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate announced that one of her goals as a commissioner is to encourage Congress, the FCC and the media industry to increase media ownership diversity. In an address to the Media Institute, Tate suggested several ideas that might increase the participation of minorities and women in media. Among these proposals is a plan to establish a tax break for companies that advertise on minority-owned stations, as introduced in a bill (H.R. 600) this year by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill. A similar tax break existed until it was repealed by Congress in 1995.
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Missouri Senate Bill Aims to Ban Sexually Oriented Billboards
A Missouri state senator has reintroduced legislation attempting to ban outdoor advertising of sexually oriented businesses. The bill, introduced by Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s Summit, was originally passed in 2004, but was deemed unconstitutional by a federal appeals court. In its original version, the legislation prohibited adult-oriented businesses from using outdoor signs and billboards to advertise any products, including advertising for innocuous products. The modified bill is more narrowly tailored toward limiting the advertising of sexually oriented businesses but still raises serious First Amendment concerns. Some senators criticized the bill, saying that because the bill was already struck down in court, it was a waste of time and money to vote on the bill again.
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Maryland Bill Would Tax Advertising-Related Services
Lawmakers in the Maryland House of Delegates have introduced legislation to extend the sales tax to numerous services, including advertising-related services such as public relations, business consulting, art services, photographic services and direct mail services. The bill (House Bill 448) currently has no Senate companion. It is scheduled for a hearing in the Ways and Means Committee on March 14. Jim Astrachan of the Advertising Association of Baltimore will be among advertising industry representatives testifying in opposition to the tax. A copy of an alert sent to Maryland ad club members is available .
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