Q&A: Minnesota game-bill author downplays fears

State Senator Sandra Pappas says bill seeking to fine minors for buying M- or AO-rated games is intended to educate parents, not prosecute children.

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Last week, the Minnesota House of Representatives approved a bill to levy fines against minors attempting who purchase games rated M for Mature and AO for Adults Only. It passed the Minnesota Senate last year and now is headed for the desk of Governor Tim Pawlenty. If Pawlenty decides to sign the bill, it is expected to take effect August 1 of this year.

State Senator Sandra Pappas of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party (pictured above), one of the bill's original authors, spoke with GameSpot today about enforcing the would-be law, what she hopes it will accomplish, and the outcry (or lack thereof) from angry gamers.

GameSpot: I'm curious about the logistics of how this law will be enforced. It's not the attempt to buy the game that's going to be fined right? It's the actual purchasing of the game. That was the way I understood--

Sandra Pappas: I wouldn't get so hung up over that. The whole goal is just to educate parents. And by requiring that the retailer post a sign saying it's illegal and to give the young person attempting to purchase a game a little bit of hesitation--a $25 civil penalty is enough to get the attention of a 12-year-old--that's really what it is. It's an educational attempt.

GS: So it's not about whether this law is going to be enforceable?

SP: No. We're not going to be prosecuting kids. We actually had it as a petty misdemeanor, but we changed it to a civil penalty. It's more important that parents just watch these games and monitor what kind of games their children are playing.

GS: I think it was Representative [Jeff] Johnson [the Republican legislator who authored the House version of the bill] that said one of the reasons for levying the fine against the person trying to buy it, for taking that different approach, was to more narrowly tailor the bill to get around previous constitutional fights put up over other game laws. This law also levies the fine against the person selling the game--

SP: No it does not.

GS: No? I'm sorry, the version of it that I was looking at online said [the fine] was up to $25 for the store owner and the person selling it as well.

SP: They should correct that. That was the House version, not the Conference Committee report. You have to look at the Conference Committee report.

[Editor's note: Pappas is correct. While the House amended the bill to include a fine for retailers before passing it last week, the final version of the bill in the Conference Committee report has had that passage removed.]

GS: Has there been any contact or back and forth with the Entertainment Software Association about this bill and ways this could be accomplished in a constitutionally acceptable way to them? Or in a way that they wouldn't dispute?

SP: They haven't offered any suggestions. They testified against the bill in the Senate last year. I passed it in the Senate last year, so I don't know if they testified this year in the House.

GS: If a law is not enforceable, how does it still stand?

SP: We pass lots of laws that aren't enforced or enforceable. [laughs] We have a seatbelt law, but it's not a primary offense, so you can't be stopped for not wearing a seatbelt. Only if you're stopped for another violation, then you can be cited for not wearing a seatbelt. That sounds a little like an unenforceable seatbelt law. Sometimes what government does is say, "And I said so. This is what you should do, and I said so."

GS: I know it's kind of a moot point if it's not going to be enforced, but the fines against minors--is that especially unusual? Do graffiti or other instances carry that threat with them?

SP: It's interesting. Curfew laws or cigarette possession or alcohol possession--I'd have to go back and look at the statutes and see if those include fines or not, because those are probably not civil penalties. I don't know. That's a good question.

GS: If the industry is going to put up a full fight on this, as it appears that they would, how do you see if playing out in court?

SP: I'm not a lawyer, so I have no idea.

GS: OK. I guess then, if you could let me know how this is constitutional where previous attempts at laws have been ruled unconstitutional.

SP: Legislators don't worry too much about what's constitutional. We just try to do what's right, and we let the courts figure that out.

GS: Have you had any vocal constituents coming out on the side of the gaming industry or against this bill?

SP: Nope. Not against the bill, just in favor of it.

GS: Great, thank you very much. I appreciate the time.

SP: You're welcome.

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