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Federal File: Reinterpretation; Off the calendar

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The Clinton Administration last week introduced an amendment to federal child-pornography statutes that would make it easier to prosecute people for the distribution or possession of such material.

The move was seen as an attempt to blunt criticism by lawmakers and conservative groups that the Administration was taking too soft a line on child pornography.

The criticism arose after Attorney General Janet Reno backed a Justice Department interpretation of current law that led the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate the child-pornography conviction of a Pennsylvania man and return his case to a lower court.

That interpretation said that pictures or videos were pornographic if they depicted a child's genitals, clothed or unclothed, and the child was acting in a lascivious manner. The department's previous interpretation had not required lascivious behavior by the child.

President Clinton backed a Senate resolution that endorsed the broader interpretation, and he made public a letter he sent to Ms. Reno expressing his views. The President ordered the Justice Department to "promptly prepare and submit any necessary legislation to insure that federal law reaches all forms of child pornography.''

The department followed suit.

Under the proposal by the Administration, the depiction of a child's clothed or unclothed genitals would be deemed pornographic if it was intended to "elicit a sexual response in the intended viewer.'' No lascivious conduct by the child would be required.


An expected vote in the Senate on a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution has been bumped off the calendar until next year.

The majority leader, George J. Mitchell of Maine, had promised proponents of the amendment a vote on the measure before adjournment. But the Thanksgiving deadline approached too quickly, and the vote was shelved.

Mr. Clinton recently wrote to Speaker of the House Thomas S. Foley opposing the proposed amendment and warning that it could imperil aid for education, drug-abuse and crime prevention, and job training.
--MARK PITSCH

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