Utah game bill passes Senate, heads to governor

State's Truth in Advertising amendment passes both legislative bodies, gains three-strikes provision; poised to become law January 1.

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Earlier this month, the Utah House of Representatives passed the controversial anti-gaming bill HB0353. The bill was crafted in part by notorious gaming activist and disbarred attorney Jack Thompson. It seeks to amend Utah's Truth in Advertising Act to punish businesses that sell age-rated media to audiences outside of the recommended age groups, but only if they do so against stated policies.

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Now, after a round of amendments and Utah State Senate approval, the bill's fate is in the hands of Governor Jon M. Huntsman Jr., reports Game Politics. Governor Huntsman's options are to either sign the bill into law, veto it, or abstain from action, which would cause the bill to automatically become law beginning January 1, 2010.

The Entertainment Software Association, which represents the gaming-industry's political interests, was quick to condemn the Utah legislature's move.

"Essentially what it does it is has the unintended consequence of creating liability exposure which could force many retailers to either abandon their voluntary policies to enforce video game rating systems, or maybe perhaps choose not to sell video games at all," said Rich Taylor, ESA vice president of communications and industry affairs, to local Utah radio station KCPW.

"Here you have broadly drawn legislative language that seeks to address a fairly small instance of retailers failing to enforce their policies as promoted," he continued. "The vast, overwhelming majority of retailers are complying, but now they fall within this swinging sight of harm that this legislation introduces."

During its trip through the Senate, which overwhelmingly approved the measure 67-3 (with five senators absent or not voting), the bill gained a three-strikes provision. As per the amendment, so long as an employee undergoes training within his or her first month of working, a retailer could retrain the offending employee after an infraction and incur no penalty. However, if the employee sells an age-restricted product to a minor after the second infraction, the retailer would be liable for deceptive trading practices under HB0353.

Violators would be opening themselves up to lawsuits, which could entitle plaintiffs to damages or $2,000, whichever is deemed greater. The way the bill is written, it would apply not just to M for Mature games, but also to those rated T for Teen, as well as movies, TV shows, toys, and any other products for which the store pledges to adhere to an age recommendation.

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