A Jack Thompson-authored bill that would put retailers in Utah at risk of being sued if they sell "violent or sexually explicit" videogames to kids after promising not to do so has been passed by the House and will now head up to the Senate.
Bill HB 353 amends Utah's Truth in Advertising Act to allow parents to file lawsuits against businesses who sell explicit material to minors in violation of pledges not to do so. The bill includes numerous loopholes and exemptions aimed at heading off opposition from the Utah Retail Merchants Association, which fears - rightly so - that the amendments could result in stores being sued even if they make honest efforts to avoid selling inappropriate games and movies to minors.
As a result of those amendments, stores have until January 1, 2010 to implement training programs that would exempt them from lawsuits, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, and retailers are also immune to civil suits if the buyer "intentionally misrepresented" his or her age at the time of purchase. Companies also have the option of simply not advertising that they won't sell age-inappropriate material to kids.
The bill has been criticized as yet another ill-conceived end-run around the First Amendment but Rep. Michael Morley, who introduced the bill on behalf of Utah Eagle Forum President and Jack Thompson ally Gayle Ruzicka, claimed otherwise. "This is not an attempt to regulate or to enforce ratings," he said. "This is simply a bill that is intended to encourage people who take a pledge and actively advertise that they will not sell to minors this age-inappropriate material [to follow through]."
"It's the right thing to do," he continued. "We have a responsibility to our children, to our families to make sure this media" doesn't end up in the hands of children.
While the large number of amendments to the bill have rendered it considerably changed from Thompson's original draft, he nonetheless claimed to be pleased with its passage in a brief comment to GamePolitics. "This is a huge victory for parents everywhere," he said. "The bill, by the amendments we fashioned, is better. Now we go on to the Senate, where I expect passage, with the Governor then likely to sign it into law!"
HB 353 passed the Utah House of Representatives by an overwhelming vote of 70-2. The full text of the amendments to the Truth in Advertising Act can be read here.
UPDATE: Describing the bill as "a solution in search of a problem," Dan Hewitt, the senior director of communications at the Entertainment Software Association, said, "The fact is, Utah has a 94% enforcement rate when it comes to video games. Also, Utah state legislators are unfairly targeting video games. Representative Morley's anti-video game bill (HB 353) would expose game retailers to frivolous lawsuits if the store promotes the ESRB rating system."
"The perverse effect of this bill is that Utah retailers will stop promoting the ESRB rating system, which has been applauded by media watchdog groups like the National Institute on Media and the Family and the Federal Trade Commission," he continued. "In short, this is a step back for parents and undercuts the positive work of the ESRB and others who promote the tools and resources available to parents."