Utah Gov. Vetoes Bad Gaming Bill, Self-Regulation Triumphs

Last night, the first amendment, self-regulation, consumers, parents, entrepreneurs, gamers, and business won a huge victory in Utah.

In early March, I posted about the “Truth in Advertising” bill running through the Utah legislature.  The bill, in effect, would have made the voluntary Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) rating system for video games a mandatory system by adding stiff fines ($2,000 per incident) for businesses that sold restricted games to teens or children that did not meet the age requirement for purchase.

The proposed enforcement for this rule was wrapped up in advertising.  So, if a business didn’t advertise that they followed the ESRB system—they didn’t “card” customers buying adult-rated games—they’d be off the hook if they eventually did sell a violent or graphic game to a minor.

Essentially, the bill created a huge incentive for businesses to avoid advertising that they were kid-friendly as it made them responsible for any future failure to card.

This is an obvious and serious flaw in the bill.

On top of that, the bill has been shown to be largely unnecessary.  ESRB President Patricia Vance in an open letter to the Utah legislature explained that,

…the most recent such study reported in May 2008 found that national retailers refused to sell M-rated games to customers under 17 a remarkable 80% of the time, far surpassing the comparable rates of compliance for movies, DVDs, or music CDs rated for a mature audience…according to a recent audit, Utah video game retailers enforce their store policies regarding the sale of M-rated games an impressive 94% of the time — without any laws or requirements that they do so.  That level of compliance took many years to achieve, and speaks to the strong commitment of video game retailers to do the right thing.

To try to improve a 94% adherence to a self-regulated policy, especially with law that encouraged non-compliance, is nothing short of absurd.  As mom would say, “That’s just silly!”

The Salt Lake Tribune called it, “A bullet dodged”.   Adding,

The bill ignored the fact that industry ratings of movies, books, music, video games and the like are voluntary and not meant to restrict anyone from buying the items.  The ratings can provide helpful information to parents, but should not supersede a parent’s decision to let a child buy a game or DVD. In that, HB353 flew in the face of Utah’s traditional support of parents’ rights and would have forced parents, as well as the state, to accept the judgment of an industry rating panel about whether a movie or book is suitable for a child of a certain age.

It was anticipated that the Utah Governor, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., who is rumored to have presidential aspirations, would use the opportunity of the bill as his “save the children” moment for his future political career.  But surprisingly enough, Huntsman and his staff studied the bill carefully and saw its obvious flaws.  The Governor released a statement following the veto:

After careful consideration and study, I have decided to veto HB 353…

While protecting children from inappropriate materials is a laudable goal, the language of this bill is so broad that it likely will be struck down by the courts as an unconstitutional violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause and/or the First Amendment.

The industries most affected by this new requirement indicated that rather than risk being held liable under this bill, they would likely choose to no longer issue age appropriate labels on goods and services.

Therefore, the unintended consequence of the bill would be that parents and children would have no labels to guide them in determining the age appropriateness of the goods or service, thereby increasing children’s potential exposure to something they or their parents would have otherwise determined was inappropriate under the voluntary labeling system now being recognized and embraced by a significant majority of vendors.

A rare moment of sanity in the political world.

Read More: Jack Thompson, the disbarred anti-violent games attorney from Florida and bill’s writer, attacks me in the comment section of an earlier post.