By LAURA SCHWARTZMAN, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS (March 25, 2008) - A bill outlawing the use of dead soldiers' identities for commercial purposes is expected to reach the governor's desk after being amended to alleviate free speech concerns.
Earlier in the legislative session, House and Senate lawmakers both considered bills prohibiting businesses from using the name or image of a dead soldier without the family's consent, but First Amendment concerns led to several changes.
A House committee hearing Tuesday on the amended bill took place the same week that the death toll for American soldiers in Iraq surpassed 4,000, according to estimates by the Associated Press.
"Our goal was to make sure businesses weren't using the names of soldiers for commercial gain without the consent of the fallen soldier's family," said Delegate Nicholaus Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, who sponsored the House version of the bill.
The amended legislation exempts the use of soldier identities in art, performance, books, news articles, films, music and broadcasts.
The bill was introduced after some Maryland families took offense at an Arizona-based online retailer selling shirts with slogans like "Bush Lied, They Died" under the names of more than 3,000 dead soldiers.
The American Civil Liberties Union still opposes the bill on First Amendment grounds, said Cynthia Boersma, legislative director for the ACLU of Maryland.
Both chambers passed identical versions of the bill unanimously, and this week the House Economic Matters Committee and the Senate Finance Committee are expected to report favorably on the cross-filed versions, Kipke said.
"I fully expect this thing to become law," he said.
The law would become effective in October. Christine Hansen, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O'Malley, said "if it came to his desk, I'm sure he'd sign it."
Senate sponsor Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, said he is currently unaware of any businesses in Maryland that would be targeted. He said the legislation is intended to be a proactive deterrent.
"It's very hurtful and painful to these parents," he said.
Violating the law carries maximum penalties of a $2,500 fine, one year in prison, or both.
Kipke said seven states have passed similar laws and that federal legislation is pending.
One target of these laws is Dan Frazier of Flagstaff, Ariz., whose online business CarryaBigSticker.com sells anti-war t-shirts with the names of dead soldiers over slogans like Rudyard Kipling's quote, "If Any Question Why We Died, Tell Them Because Our Fathers Lied."
He said the shirts say nothing to imply that the soldiers support the political statements. "The names, collectively, have great symbolic value," he said. "I think that the laws in different states, including Maryland, just go to show how powerful this product is." A temporary injunction issued against Arizona's soldier privacy law in September is still in effect, Boersma said, and Frazier said laws in other states have proven "inconsequential" to him. He said attention over the Maryland law may even boost his sales.