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Washington Committe Has Video Violence In Its Sights

24 Jan, 2002 By: Kurt Indvik

The Washington State House of Representatives' Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Law will hear testimony today on a bill that would criminalize the rental or sale to minors of computer and video games that contain depictions of violence committed against law officers and are rated ‘Mature' or ‘Adults Only.'

The Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) contends the bill violates the First Amendment and has sent the committee chairwoman a letter to that effect. Tom Paine, president of Redmond, Wash.-based Video Factory is scheduled to testify on behalf of the VSDA.

VSDA representatives belive the bill 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."

After today's hearing, the bill will go to a committee executive session for a vote no earlier than a week from now, said O'Sullivan. If it passes out of committee it would go to the state Legislature for a vote.

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