ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland has taken a large step toward becoming the 26th state to outlaw the possession of child pornography.
The House of Delegates voted 125-6 yesterday for a bill prohibiting people from "knowingly" possessing films, videotapes or photos of children under age 16 engaged in sexual conduct, sexual excitement or sadomasochistic abuse.
The state Senate passed a tougher version of the bill last month, making it likely that both chambers ultimately will send a compromise measure to the governor.
"It's going to become law. I will not let it die in conference committee," vowed Del. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., chief sponsor of the House bill.
Conference committees resolve the differences between similar House and Senate bills.
It already is illegal to sell or distribute child pornography, the Baltimore County Republican said.
Yesterday's vote is significant because the House has been a roadblock to similar bills in the past few years. Despite strong support in the Senate, the House Judiciary Committee shot down earlier attempts to outlaw the possession of child porn.
Some opponents on that committee believed banning the possession of child pornography was too intrusive, Mr. Ehrlich said. Others feared that such a law could lead to the wrongful prosecution of innocent parents who photograph their nude babies and toddlers.
To address those concerns, Mr. Ehrlich said he included a provision saying that parents can have nude photos of their own children, unless those pictures depict sexual conduct or sadomasochistic abuse. The bill would not apply to people who have legitimate scientific, educational, governmental, artistic or news reasons for possessing such materials.
"Vice cops will tell you the real purpose is to get at the real trash -- the true child pornography," Delegate Ehrlich said. "It will get at child pornography rings which are operating and proliferating around the state."
He also weakened the proposed penalties -- a violation would be a misdemeanor -- and dropped attempts to classify material depicting 16- and 17-year-olds as child porn that people cannot possess.
The tougher Senate bill, introduced by Baltimore County Democrat Norman R. Stone Jr., includes depictions of 16- and 17-year-olds in the definition of outlawed child porn.
That bill also calls for longer prison terms and larger fines for violators.