The Senate approved and sent to the White House Wednesday a ban on dial-a-porn phone services, lumped into a five-year extension of most federal education programs.
The legislation was approved in the Senate by voice vote, without debate. The House approved the measure Tuesday 397-1.The bill slipped through the Senate without controversy, in sharp contrast to the House where it passed only after a tough fight in which rank-and-file Democrats, overriding their leaders, rejected a softer version of the dial-a-porn provision.
Lawmakers voted twice Tuesday for the ban, first 379-22 as a stand-alone bill, and then 397-1 as part of a $7.5 billion education bill.
The votes were a triumph for conservative lawmakers and a defeat for the Democratic leadership, which failed in its attempt to substitute an alternative provision into the education bill permitting dial-a-porn but limiting it to adults who subscribe to a service through their local telephone companies.
The two bills now go to the Senate for final passage, but the education bill, which is in its final form, will likely be passed first, making the stand-alone bill unnecessary.
Proponents of the ban claimed that thousands of children have been been psychologically hurt by calling dial-a-porn services.
They charged the Democratic alternative would not prevent children from gaining access to dial-a-porn services, either by using credit cards, which circumvent phone company billing systems, or by dialing from a subscriber's phone.
They also warned the federal measure would effectively legitimize dial-a-porn operations, pre-empt state laws restricting the services and protect telephone companies from lawsuits.
House leaders had argued the courts would overturn an outright ban as an unconstitutional violation of freedom of expression and a softer measure was needed in the education bill as a backstop to the stand-alone legislation.
But rank-and-file Democrats, sensing the sensitive political nature of dial-a-porn, abandoned their leaders and backed the total ban.