Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) made good on her promise to put forth federal gaming legislation today, as she and fellow Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Evan Bayh (D-IN) unveiled the Family Entertainment Protection Act. The Act is intended to put teeth in the enforcement of game ratings, fining the managers of retail outlets who are caught selling games rated M for Mature, AO for Adults Only, or RP for Ratings Pending to children under the age of 17.
"Video games are hot holiday items, and there are certainly wonderful games that help our children learn and increase hand and eye coordination," Clinton said in a statement. "However, there are also games that are just not appropriate for our nation's youth. This bill will help empower parents by making sure their kids can't walk into a store and buy a video game that has graphic, violent and pornographic content."
Store managers would be fined up to $1,000 or 100 hours of community service for a first offense, and $5,000 or 500 hours of community service for each subsequent offense. Retailers can escape such fines if they were shown identification they believed to be valid or if their stores "have a system in place to display and enforce" the ratings system.
Beyond levying fines for retailers ignoring the ratings system, the bill would also require an independent annual analysis of the ratings system, and would expand the powers and responsibilities of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Clinton's legislation calls for the FTC to conduct an investigation into the prevalence of embedded inappropriate material not reflected in a game's rating (like the sex minigame in the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Hot Coffee scandal). The bill would also require the FTC to accept consumer complaints about misleading or deceptive game ratings, and authorizes the commission to conduct an annual secret shopper audit of retailers to make sure they're playing by the new rules.
In her statement on the new bill, Clinton mentions that similar bills in Illinois, Michigan, and California have all been signed into law. She did not mention that the Illinois laws have been declared unconstitutional by a District Court judge, or that another District Court judge ordered the Michigan law temporarily blocked, saying it is "unlikely to survive strict scrutiny." One important distinction between the laws is that the Illinois, Michigan, and California laws ban the sale of violent games to children using their own definitions of "violent games," while Clinton's bill refers instead to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board's ratings system to determine what is and isn't appropriate for children.