WASHINGTON (AP) -- A bill heading toward Senate floo action would require the National Endowment for the Arts to recoup federal funds from grant recipients convicted of violating obscenity laws.
The measure, approved yesterday on a 15-1 vote by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, also would extend the embattled NEA's life for five years, with $175 million in spending authority in the first fiscal year, starting Oct. 1.
Arts supporters predicted that the bill's broad support by committee liberals and conservatives, including Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, would boost its chances of approval by the full Senate.
Amid a bitter political controversy over the NEA's past support for works that conservative critics have denounced as obscene and sacrilegious, the Senate panel voted to have the courts -- rather than the federal arts agency -- decide which works are obscene.
Under the bill, NEA grant recipients convicted on criminal charges of violating obscenity or child pornography laws would have to return their federal grant money to the arts endowment within 90 days. They would be barred from receiving new NEA grants for at least three years.
Hatch said the bill would solve the problem of "protecting taxpayer funds and artists' freedom of expression at the same time." Kennedy hailed the committee's rejection of harsher anti-obscenity curbs on the endowment.
On a 14-2 vote, the committee defeated a proposal by Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., that would have imposed strict guidelines on NEA panels that select grant applications for approval.
The NEA's statutory authority expires Sept. 30, along with a congressional ban, enacted last fall at the urging of Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., that prohibits the endowment from subsidizing works that "may be considered obscene."