Leahy Looks For "Short-Time" Agreement On Satellite Reauthorization

Agreement Would Streamline Floor Consideration On Must-Pass Legislation As Blanket License Expiration Nears

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Nov. 5 he hoped to work with his colleagues to get a short-time agreement on the Judiciary committee version of the satellite reathorization bill that was passed out of committee Sept. 24.

The short-time agreement is a way to streamline the floor consideration of a noncontroversial bill. Leahy pointed out that his committee has a lot on its plate, including nominations to vet and vote out and several pieces of must-pass legislation.

He said he didn't think the bill was controversial. The bill that was reported out of Leahy's committee passed by voice vote and was free of entangling amendments. Essentially, it would allow for the importation of distant signals into so-called short markets that lack one of the network affiliates or a sufficiently strong signal from a nearby affiliate and also makes technical corrections to reflect the advent of digital TV.

It also calls for a study on phasing out the license, which is a way of dealing with the issue without having it become an obstacle to passage.

While time is growing short for the reauthorization--the satellite blanket license to import distant affiliate TV station signals expires at the end of the year--there is still work to do.

The Senate Judiciary bill must still be signed off on by the Senate Commerce Committee, then reconciled with a House version. Because it involves both communications and copyright issues, jurisdiction is split among Judiciary and commerce committees in the Senate and House.

The House version that passed out of the Energy & Commerce Committee currently contains a provision--which allows Dish Network back in the distant signal business in exchange for delivering local TV station signals in all 210 markets--that is not in the Senate version.

A possible stop-gap alternative if the two bills cannot be reconciled would be to extend the license for a year.