The Maryland House of Delegates voted unanimously Wednesday to curtail spam by criminalizing the sending of mass unsolicited e-mail (search).

"This legislation is trying to move in the right direction," said Delegate Anthony J. O'Donnell, R-Calvert. "Some of these (spam) messages deal with sexual conduct and they are inappropriate and offensive."

The legislation penalizes senders of spam based on a sliding scale of the number of mailings sent, which would determine whether charges should be misdemeanors or felonies.

The Senate last week passed a version of the spam bill, SB 604, which was considered by the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

The federal government has cracked down on unsolicited, mass e-mail with the CAN-SPAM Act (search) of 2003. It requires commercial e-mail to be labeled and prohibits using deceptive subject lines.

It also authorizes the Federal Trade Committee to establish a "do-not-e-mail" registry (search).

Delegate Neil Quinter, D-Howard, House bill sponsor, said spam costs businesses approximately $10 billion dollars a year. He said he hopes to duplicate the success of Virginia's spam law, which is similar.

"The problem of spamming is growing exponentially," he said.

The Senate bill sponsor, Rob Garagiola, D-Montgomery, said he expected Wednesday's hearing would lead to combined bill that both chambers could support.

"We're going to make the bills conform," said Garagiola.

The bill has the support of Time Warner/AOL, Earthlink (search) and Microsoft (search), according to the legislators.

Quinter has said his bill would provide the Attorney General with more specific tools to prosecute spammers in civil court.

Spam is more than just an annoyance, said Delegate Don Dwyer Jr., R-Anne Arundel. Dwyer, and some other lawmakers, had his computer overtaken by spam to the point where it damaged computer files and sent out pornographic messages with his e-mail address.

These kinds of egregious violations he said are calling out for legislation.

"I don't have a problem receiving junk mail," said Dwyer. "But when somebody takes control of my files, that ought to be a criminal act. I know that it has affected many of those who run for elected office."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.