California Legislature Passes Yee's Violent Games Bill

Earlier this summer Illinois Governor Blagojevich signed a violent games bill into law. Could California become the second state to introduce such a law? Assemblyman Leland Yee's bill has now been passed and only needs the signature of Governor Schwarzenegger. The video game industry is likely to fight back, however, just as it is doing with the Illinois act. [Updated]

[UPDATE] The ESA has responded with the following statement from Gail Markels, Senior Vice President and General Counsel:

"The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) is disappointed by the California General Assembly's action. We believe that AB 1179 is unnecessary and will restrict the First Amendment rights of California's citizens. Instead of signing a clearly unconstitutional bill into law, we're asking the Governor to focus his resources on a more effective resolution, working with industry in our efforts to help parents make the right game choices for their unique families.

"In the end, this is an effort to substitute the government's judgment for parental supervision and turn retailers into surrogate parents. This is misguided. Each family is unique. There is no question that some games have content that is offensive to some audiences. The same can be said of TV, films, music, and books. But government does not regulate their sales, nor should government regulate the sale of video games. Ultimately, parents -- not government or industry -- must be the gatekeepers when it comes to deciding what media should be brought into the home."

This July, Illinois became the first U.S. state to ban the sale and rental of violent and sexually explicit video games to children. The "Safe Games Illinois Act" won't go into effect until January 1, 2006, but it could soon have company in California if Assemblyman Leland Yee's Assembly Bill (AB) 1179, formerly AB 450, is signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger.

Bill now in Schwarzenegger's handsAfter being passed by the California Senate on a bipartisan vote 22-9, last night, on a bipartisan 65-7 vote, the California State Assembly approved Yee's legislation, which would subject retailers who violate the act up to $1,000 for each violation. In addition, Yee's bill would require violent games to be labeled with a designation for adult sale only, using a white "18" sticker, outlined in black, which would be about 2 inches by 2 inches -- far bigger and more visible than the ESRB ratings on game packaging.

Governor Schwarzenegger now has 30 days to either sign or veto Yee's bill. Assuming the governor signs it into law, it would go into effect on January 1, the same time as the Illinois law. The video game industry, represented by the ESA, filed a lawsuit seeking relief from the Illinois law, and it's likely that they would do the same to fight Yee's bill.

Before we get to that point, however, there is some concern that Governor Schwarzenegger may decide to veto the bill. The governor has been an active participant in the entertainment industry, and his voice and likeness have been used in video games based on his movies, after all.

"Governor Schwarzenegger is no longer an action star but an elected representative of all Californians; I am hopeful that he will consider our children's best interests by signing this commonsense legislation into law and giving parents a necessary tool to raise healthy kids," commented Speaker pro Tem Yee.

Likening games to cigarettes (again)According to a press release issued by Yee, which cites the Federal Trade Commission, "nearly 70 percent of thirteen to sixteen year olds are able to purchase M-rated (Mature) video games, which are designed for adults."

"These violent video games are learning tools for our children and clearly result in more aggressive behavior," said Randall Hagar, California Psychiatric Association's Director of Government Affairs, who seemed to be reiterating the American Psychological Association's recent findings.

"Studies prove that playing these violent video games are bad for kids mental and physical health," added Jim Steyer, Founder of Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization of 750,000 regular users dedicated to improving children's media lives. "The health threat involved with kids playing such games is equivalent to smoking cigarettes."

The ESA could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Those interested in reading the complete text of AB 1179 may find it here.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.