U.S. rep addresses Wednesday Morning Club at BevHills Hotel

An “anti-paparazzi mood” has taken hold of Congress, increasing the likelihood that legislation aimed at curbing the excesses of stalkerazzi photogs will be passed into law, U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde told a showbiz industry group Wednesday.

“Everybody in public life suffers from the blessing and curse of publicity,” Hyde (R-Ill.) said in his luncheon address to the public policy oriented Wednesday Morning Club at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, pledged his support for the Personal Privacy Protection Act introduced in the House last week by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Oxnard). A similar proposal sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), is set to bow in the Senate this week.

“Trying to draw a line (between the press and public figures) that is consistent with the First Amendment is very difficult to do, but it is worth attempting,” Hyde said, noting the public outrage at violent incidents involving photographers and such celebs as Princess Diana and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Copyright protection was the other tenet of Hyde’s speech. He drew applause from the crowd of about 160 industry execs by vowing to stay vigilant in the fight against Internet-related piracy and other abuses of copyright law. Hyde said the judiciary committee is pushing for the swift ratification of the World Intellectual Property Organization treaty that was signed by the U.S. and more than 150 other countries last year.

Hyde, a 24-year House veteran, touched briefly on possible impeachment hearings stemming from the still-unfolding scandal involving President Clinton and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Hyde, who would spearhead the process as chairman of the judiciary committee, said nothing will happen in the House until independent counsel Kenneth Starr completes his wide-ranging investigation of the President.

“I’ve been scrupulously neutral in commenting on the possibility of impeachment hearings,” said Hyde. “If there is material (from Starr’s investigation) that is substantive, credible and impeachable, we will hold hearings….It is important to vindicate the rule of law, if it needs vindicating.”

On a lighter note, Hyde curried favor with the showbiz group by acknowledging that he’s “a hopeless movie fan.” He also praised the craftsmanship of David E. Kelley new ABC drama, “The Practice,” and NBC’s “Law & Order.”

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