Suburban Officials Keep Pressure on Fight to Change Obscenity Law

Article excerpt

Byline: Don Thompson Daily Herald State Government Writer

A suburban state representative's effort to change Illinois' obscenity law suffered a setback last week when the Illinois State's Attorneys' Association declined to take a position on the bill.

However, GOP state Rep. Peter Roskam of Wheaton and other supporters - including new DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett - said Illinois should prosecute obscenity based on a county rather than the current statewide standard, ending what they say is a legal advantage for adult bookstores and other pornography distributors.

They rejected opponents' arguments that the bill to be considered by state lawmakers next month would create a crazy-quilt of community standards, one for each of the state's 102 counties.

Opponents, including libraries, newspapers, retail merchants and the motion picture and cable television industries "have said the world's coming to an end, but it's clearly working in other states," said Roskam.

Roskam revived the bill more than a year after it passed the state Senate at the behest of conservative organizations that want the Republican-controlled House to send the bill to Gov. Jim Edgar before Democrats regain the majority Jan. 8. Roskam delayed a vote earlier this month to solicit more support, particularly from state's attorneys who discussed but did not endorse the measure at their state convention in Chicago this week.

"Right now, Illinois is in the minority of states that require juries to consider a statewide standard ... (meaning that) if it's appropriate in any part of the state it's appropriate here. It has the effect of leveling down," Roskam said. "The more people look at this bill and the more people realize that Illinois is in a minority, the more the comfort level grows."

Illinois is one of 19 states that have a statewide standard. Twenty-four have a smaller geographic area, including 10 that narrow it to a county - as Illinois would if the law is approved.

DuPage County's Birkett said his prosecutors have had success closing down adult bookstores. But he said it is becoming increasingly difficult to counter defense experts and surveys showing that the material in question might be acceptable in a distant part of Illinois.

He and Roskam rejected arguments that the bill would hinder statewide distribution of everything from newspapers to movies to textbooks.

"This doesn't change the definition of obscenity," Birkett said. "Bottom line is the only cases that are ever charged are adult bookstores and hard-core pornography, and that's not going to change. …