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UPDATE: Washington State Gets Video Violence In Its Crosshairs

25 Jan, 2002 By: Kurt Indvik


Video dealers and others turned out in support of the industry at a Washington state committee's hearing aimed at limiting circulation of video games that depict violence against law officers.



The Washington State House of Representatives' Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Law heard testimony yesterday on HB 2363, which would criminalize the rental or sale to minors of computer and video games that depict of violence committed against law officers and are rated ‘Mature' or ‘Adults Only.'



"There was a lot of Sept. 11 overtones" running through the dialogue, said Tom Paine, owner of three suburban Seattle video stores (two Video Factory and one Movieola) who testified on behalf of the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA).



"I was also there as a retailer talking about the Pledge to Parents program and why it's incumbent upon us as video store owners to follow the instructions of the parents," regarding renting this type of video game to their children, he said. "It behooves us to keep them happy."



Others testifying included representatives from Mothers Against Violence in America and the state police officers association, both in favor of the bill, along with several digital media and video game organizations against the proposed bill.



The VSDA sent the committee chairwoman a letter contending the bill violates the First Amendment and would usurp the parents' rights to determine what is appropriate for their children.



Although the VSDA agrees "…it is disturbing that a computer or video game would make targets out of law enforcement officers, and we believe that children should not be able to obtain videos their parents determine are not appropriate for them…we cannot agree that the state may ban minors' access to such games, " Sean Bersell, VP of public affairs for VSDA, stated in the letter opposing H.B. 2362.



The VSDA's letter is addressed to Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D), who chairs the committee and is chief sponsor of the bill, according to Mike O'Sullivan, legislative aide. Dickerson hopes to give parents more control, not less, through this legislation, he said.



"The bill came out of a series of meetings with parents and representative Dickerson and she felt that this legislation was the natural next step," O'Sullivan said. "Her intent is more to helping parents be able to make decisions for their children on this sort of material and help them understand what the ratings mean."



The VSDA's position is that, "While it is clear that sexual material can fail to qualify for First Amendment protection based on the grounds that it is obscene for minors…courts have repeatedly held that violent material is entitled to First Amendment protection," Bersell wrote. He added that vesting the Entertainment Software Ratings Board's ratings with the force of law is a misapplication of the intention of those ratings, which are advisory and not intended to be held as a legal determination that access to the games must be restricted. That would also violate the Washington State Constitution, the VSDA holds, since it would delegate to that private institution "…the unfettered authority to determine which video games may be available for rental or sale to individuals under the age of 18 years of age."



The bill will go to a committee executive session for at least a week before it goes to a vote, said O'Sullivan. If it passes out of committee it would go to the state Legislature for a vote.


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