Michigan governor signs gaming bill into law, sort of

Granholm prematurely announces signing of violent-game laws, signs laws prohibiting display of sexually explicit games instead.

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Democratic Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm today announced that she signed into law legislation that prohibits the "sale or rental of mature or adult-rated video games to children."

In the interest of splitting hairs, the two bills Granholm signed today merely included sexually explicit video games in the state's list of things to shield from the prying eyes of minors. They are part of a package of four bills, the other two of which will be signed later this week. It is one of those two other bills, Senate Bill 416, that the governor is presumably talking about. Though it doesn't use a game's rating to determine if the proposed law applies to it, SB 416 prohibits the distribution of "ultra-violent explicit video games" to minors.

By the law's definition, an ultraviolent explicit video game means a game that "continually and repetitively depicts extreme and loathsome violence." Extreme and loathsome violence is further defined as "real or simulated graphic depictions of physical injuries or physical violence against parties who realistically appear to be human beings, including actions causing death, inflicting cruelty, dismemberment, decapitation, maiming, disfigurement, or other mutilation of body parts, murder, criminal sexual conduct, or torture."

Similar legislation is making the rounds among state lawmakers around the country, from the California bill currently before Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to a proposed federal law endorsed by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). The Entertainment Software Association currently has a lawsuit pending against the state of Illinois for its law limiting the sale and rental to minors of games with violent or sexually explicit content.

Under the imminent Michigan law, a person caught giving a violent game to a minor would be liable for a fine of up to $5,000, five times the amount of the California law's maximum and equal to Clinton's proposed mandatory fine. However, unlike those efforts, the Michigan law increases fines for repeat offenders. A second infraction can merit a fine of up to $15,000, whereas the cost of subsequent violations can go up to $40,000.

Furthermore, anyone who pretends to be a minor's parent or legal guardian in order to get the game for that minor will face up to 93 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $15,000. The manager of a business that lets a minor view or play a violent game faces up to 93 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $25,000.

According to Granholm's office, a series of independent investigations conducted earlier this year found that minors were able to purchase games "rated M for Mature or NC-17" at 26 of 58 stores across six Michigan counties. Specific games purchased included Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat, Manhunt, Doom 3, and Resident Evil.

In her press release, Granholm grouped the signings as her latest achievement relating to child protection issues, along with her efforts to stop convicted sex offenders, Internet child pornographers, Web sites that sell ingredients to make the date rape drug GHB, and retailers that sell cigarettes and alcohol to minors.

Last year, violent gaming legislation in Washington was struck down as a violation of free speech because a federal judge determined there wasn't sufficient evidence to support the idea that violent games cause violent behavior, and vague phrasing made the law practically unenforceable.

According to California Assemblyman Leland Yee, one of the authors of the California bill currently before Governor Schwarzenegger, his legislation was written specifically to avoid problems with vague phrasing, while the Michigan law cites dozens of studies, hundreds of metastudies, and representatives of major national health organizations who have read "more than 1,000" studies in concluding that the effects of media violence on minors "are measurable and long-lasting."

If signed (which seems probable), the new law will take effect December 1, 2005.

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