WASHINGTON -- House Democrats, with the backing of a number of Republicans, are throwing their support behind an anti-spam bill that calls for more broadly defining spam and tougher criminal and civil penalties than the legislation favored by powerful House Energy and Commerce Chairman Billy Tauzin (R.-La.)and Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R.-Wisc.)

Sponsored by Heather Wilson (R.-N.M.) and Gene Green (D.-Tex.), the Anti-Spam Act of 2003 (H.R. 2515)would allow consumers to opt-out of all commercial e-mail as opposed to Tauzin's plan that calls for opt-out procedures only if the "primary purpose" of the message is commercial.

Neither bill would require opt-out procedures for e-mail from charities, religous groups, non-profit groups or political organizations.

Both bills call for an indentifier that the e-mail is an advertisement or solicitation and require an accurate return address and physical address of the sender. Both bills also make it illegal to use false headers or routing information or to send illegal commercial e-mail to harvested e-mail addresses.

At a Wednesday joint hearing of two House subcommittees reviewing the two proposals, Democrat John D. Dingell (R.-Mich.) said Tauzin's proposal would "create a new category of perfectly legal spam that would be exempt from the opt-out provision and from state regulation."

Dingell added, "Smart marketers would seize this loophole to create spam that fits within the definition and is exempt from the law."

Another difference between Tauzin's bill and the Wilson-Green proposal, Dingell noted, is that under the Tauzin legislation a consumer would be required to opt-out of each affiliate offering of a company while Wilson-Green takes a friendlier consumer approach.

"Simply stated, if affiliates can share a consumer's e-mail address, then they can also share that consumer's request to opt out of future spam," Dingell said of the Wilson-Green bill.

For his part, the often contentious Tauzin sounded a conciliatory note about the two bills.

"I am pleased to see Mrs. Wilson has again emerged as a leader on the Spam issue," Tauzin said. He called the Wilson-Green legislation "remarkably similar" to his approach.

Wilson and Green sponored much the same legislation in the 106th Congress. The bill passed the House by a 427-1 margin but failed to muster passage in the Senate. The bill was re-introduced in 2001 and did not pass either chamber.