Jack Thompson Threatens to "Proceed" Against Utah Attorney General

March 30, 2009 -

In the fallout from his latest, apparently unsuccessful attempt to legislate video games in Utah, disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson has issued a vague legal threat to Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. The popular Republican is serving his third term as Utah's top law enforcement officer.

On Friday the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Shurtleff had expressed concerns about the legality of HB 353, the Thompson-conceived video game bill which was vetoed by Gov. Jon Huntsman last week.

Thompson, clearly, was not thrilled with the news. He referred to Shurtleff as "dead meat" in the header of an e-mail forwarded to GamePolitics later on Friday.

A Sunday e-mail from Thompson to Salt Lake Tribune reporter Robert Gehrke (and cc:'d to GP) threatens to "proceed" against Shurtleff if the A.G. doesn't move against major retailers for what Thompson claims is "the distribution of pornography to minors in violation of state law." By way of defining porn, Thompson attached links to strip club and hooker scenes from Grand Theft Auto IV. However, while certainly not intended for younger buyers, GTA IV has not been declared obscene in any U.S. jurisdiction.

Oh, and there's a deadline for Shurtleff to act: 5:00 P.M. today.

As GamePolitics has previously reported, Thompson called for Shurtleff's impeachment in 2007 when the A.G. suggested that a piece of Thompson-authored video game legislation then before the Utah House was unconstitutional.

GamePolitics has requested comment on Thompson's threat from Rep. Mike Morley, the sponsor of HB 353, as well as from Gayle Ruzicka, the politically-powerful Thompson ally who heads the ultra-conservative Utah Eagle Forum. We have also asked Shurtleff's office to comment. We'll post any comments that we receive.

UPDATE: Apparently unable to wait for his own 5:00 P.M. deadline, Thompson has written to Utah's Obscenity and Pornography Complaints Ombudsman... Except that the person he addressed his letter to is a law enforcement director in Utah A.G.'s Office. The "porn czar" position was eliminated in 2003 for budgetary reasons - which may be an indication of how serious Thompson is about all of this.

UPDATE 2: Rep. Morley has commented to GamePolitics on Thompson's threat to "proceed" against Shurtleff: "I know nothing about that."

Hit the jump for Thompson's Sunday letter to Shurtleff, the "dead meat" e-mail and the new letter to the porn ombudsman:

207 comments | Read more

No Decision Yet on Override, Says Utah Video Game Bill Sponsor

March 30, 2009 -

The sponsor of Utah's HB 353 told GamePolitics that he is undecided as to whether he will seek an override of Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman's veto of the controversial measure.

Rep. Mike Morley (R) told us via e-mail:

As far as a potential override, I haven't decided whether or not to pursue that.  We'll see as we get a little further down the road.

Morley (left) also gave his reaction to Huntsman's veto:

I was somewhat surprised by the governor's veto and disappointed that he didn't contact me prior to the veto to discuss the issues.  I believe that his decision was made based on false or misleading information from the gaming industry which constituted nothing more than posturing.  The bill was carefully crafted to provide safe harbor for those retailers who followed their own advertising.

GP: To be fair, the decision on the override is not likely to be Morley's alone; Utah's House and Senate leadership will surely be involved. As GamePolitics reported last week, House Majority Leader Kevin Garn (R) termed an override unlikely, suggesting instead that HB 353 be "retooled" and submitted in the 2010 legislative session.

14 comments

Columnist Praises Guv, Spanks Thompson Over Utah Video Game Bill

March 29, 2009 -

In a Saturday column, Salt Lake Tribune political reporter Paul Rolly praises Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) for his recent veto of HB 353, the Jack Thompson-conceived video game/movie bill. Thompson, however, comes in for some heat:

Gov. Jon Huntsman's veto of House Bill 353 underscores the importance of the constitutional checks that can be imposed on the Utah Legislature, whose members often are influenced by ideological extremists or questionable special interest groups.

In this case, while 25 of 29 senators and 67 of 75 representatives voted for the bill that supposedly protected children, it was Huntsman who proved to be the adult, protecting us all from the childlike antics of the legislators and their puppet masters.

In discussing Thompson's involvement with the vetoed legislation, Rolly cites a pair of GamePolitics stories. The first was our February interview with HB 353 sponsor Rep. Mike Morley (R). That interview's bizarre turn of events offered clues as to who wielded the real political clout behind HB 353. Hint: It wasn't Morley:

Thompson teamed up with Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka to push the legislation, a fact that Morley seemed reluctant to admit when he was interviewed by Game Politics, a publication that tracks the video-game industry.

The SL Trib columnist also dug up a 2007 GamePolitics interview with Jack Thompson. At the time Thompson was pushing a different piece of video game legislation in Utah. When Attorney General Mark Shurtleff suggested that the measure was unconstitutional, Thompson called for his impeachment. In the interview, I asked Thompson how such over-the-top verbiage was helpful to his cause. Ever the charmer, he called me a "goofball" and referred to Shurtleff as a "moron."

Thompson's involvement in Utah's legislative process is clearly troubling to Rolly:

This is a guy who is guiding legislation in Utah, the latest example of the influence certain ideologues can have on a Legislature controlled by one political party and too often predisposed to approve legislation, no matter how bad or bizarre, from right-wing zealots.

Pictured: Gov. Huntsman, Rep. Morley, Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka, Jack Thompson

43 comments

Utah Attorney General: We Had Concerns About Jack Thompson Video Game Bill

March 27, 2009 -

The Salt Lake Tribune reports this morning that Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (R) harbored reservations about the legality of HB 353, the video game/movie bill conceived by Jack Thompson.

Trib reporter Robert Gehrke writes:

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff... told me last night that his office had expressed its concerns "with several different iterations of the bill" while it was pending before the Legislature.

"Ultimately, we could probably make an argument to defend it, but we will be sued, it will be costly. If we lose we will pay attorneys fees. Wouldn't you rather spend that money educating people about the rating system?" he asked. "The governor apparently decided it wasn't worth the risk."

There would seem to be little love lost between Shurtleff and Thompson. During the disbarred attorney's previous attempt to legislate games in Utah, he called for Shurtleff's impeachment after the A.G. opined that Thompson's 2007 bill was constitutionally-challenged. The bill was subsequently tabled by the Utah House.

Thompson, who apparently got wind of Shurtleff's comments in advance, disputed the A.G.'s remarks in a harshly-worded e-mail sent last evening:

We told you for weeks that if you had any constitutional concerns, we wanted to provide you any information you wanted in that regard.  I offered repeatedly to meet with you and talk with you, and you ignored my repeated plaintive requests to do so... 

We heard absolutely NOTHING from you as to the bill’s alleged unconstitutionality, and yet now we hear... that you were badmouthing it in that regard, I presume to Gov. Huntsman as well... 

For his part, Shurtleff has been both a critic of violent video games as well as a supporter of the ESRB rating system. In 2005, for example, he urged Utah retailers to boycott Eidos's controversial cops-and-robbers shooter, 25 to Life.

In 2006 Shurtleff made an industry-funded public service announcement in which he urged parents to utilize ESRB ratings. As GamePolitics has reported, Shurtleff received a $3,000 campaign donation from the ESA in May of 2008.

53 comments

Grover Norquist High-Fives Utah Guv Over Video Game Bill Veto

March 26, 2009 -

A nationally-prominent conservative has given props to Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) for vetoing HB 353, the video game/movie bill crafted by disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson.

Earlier today, Grover Norquist (left), president of Americans for Tax Reform, forwarded the Guv a congratulatory letter, and GamePolitics has obtained a copy. From Norquist's message to Gov. Huntsman:

In vetoing such a clearly unconstitutional bill you have spared the taxpayers of your state the fate of too many others, picking up the legal tab for those that challenge the bill...

 

Your veto spared not only the legal costs states like the now nearly bankrupt California ($282,794) and Illinois ($545,078), but the harm to retail outlets in these difficult economic times, as well as the interference of parental rights by the state...

 

I know there is a push by well-intentioned groups... to override your veto, but that is a bad idea. Beyond the obvious First Amendment violation this bill presents and the dubious nature of making legally binding voluntary industry ratings, H.B. 353 violates the Dormant Commerce Clause of the Constitution as well...

 

As you know, Americans for Tax Reform opposed passage of H.B. 353 and supported a veto. I thank you for standing up for the taxpayers of Utah in this matter and encourage you to stand strong and fight against attempts to override that veto.

DOCUMENT DUMP: Grab a copy of Norquist's letter to Gov. Huntsman here (pdf).

16 comments

Reactions to Utah Veto...

March 26, 2009 -

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's dramatic veto of the Jack Thompson-conceived HB 353 has drawn reaction from a variety of quarters:

We support the efforts of the Entertainment Merchants Association and other industry groups in battling this legislation. It was extremely broad and could have fostered ancillary anti-consumer consequences, such as pushing retailers and publishers to stop promoting and using ESRB ratings, which have been extremely effective in educating consumers about game content. Jennifer Mercurio, Director of Government Affairs, Entertainment Consumers Association

A very laudable decision. National Coalition Against Censorship

This is an absolute win for families. Utah’s parents will benefit from Governor Huntsman’s leadership and thoughtfulness on this issue. His decisive action helps caregivers and prevents businesses from being opened to unproductive, wasteful civil litigation and needless expense. Parents can be assured that the strength of the ESRB rating system remains intact and continues to serve as a valuable resource and will continue to effectively serve them. Michael Gallagher, CEO, Entertainment Software Association

EMA and video game retailers are grateful to Governor Huntsman for his courageous veto of this ill-conceived and inappropriate initiative. We are heartened to see an elected leader look beyond the emotion, rhetoric, and distortions surrounding video games and evaluate a proposal on its merits. As we have consistently noted, House Bill 353 would have been counterproductive for the consumers of Utah, because it would likely have led retailers to abandon their commitments to enforce the video game and motion picture ratings at the point of sale. Sean Bersell, VP of Public Affairs, Entertainment Merchants Association

We appreciate Governor Huntsman’s decision to defend the Constitution and protect retailers by vetoing this bill. The bill may have been well intentioned but it would have undermined the video game and movie rating systems and possibly book age recommendations while leaving local businesses with the constant threat of frivolous lawsuits. David Horowitz, Executive Director, Media Coalition
 

GP: Via e-mail, we've asked Utah Eagle Forum boss Gayle Ruzicka for her reaction. We've asked HB 353 sponsor Rep. Mike Morley, too. So far, we've received no response from either.

(more to follow as we receive them...)

FULL DISCLOSURE DEPT: The ECA is the parent company of GamePolitics.

17 comments

Jack Thompson Lashes Out at Utah Guv Following Game Bill Veto

March 26, 2009 -

Following abortive attempts to bring video game legislation to Utah in 2006 and 2007, Jack Thompson's fortunes in the conservative Western state seemed to be improving this time around.

Despite early confusion as to whether Thompson or bill sponsor Rep. Mike Morley deserved credit for dreaming up HB 353, the bill quickly gathered momentum. The Utah House and Senate passed the measure overwhelmingly and it was known to enjoy the support of Utah power broker - and Thompson ally - Gayle Ruzicka, head of the ultra-conservative Utah Eagle Forum.

Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman pulled the rug out yesterday, however. Huntsman vetoed the bill, citing constitutional concerns and the potential for "unintended consequences."

For his part, Thompson went on the offensive. A letter from the disbarred attorney to the Governor took a harsh tone and threatened even more restrictive legislative action in the future:

You got suckered [by the video game industry]. Further, there is no constitutional, First Amendment problem... 

If your veto is not overridden, then we will be back with a bill to ban the sale of these products altogether, in light of the recent massacres in Germany and in this country directly caused by these murder simulation products that are being copycatted by teens who are being fraudulently sold them.

GP: The threat to ban violent games for players of all ages - including adults - would appear to be highly suspect, in light of the First Amendment. We asked Thompson about that, but he did not respond.

Thompson also circulated public records showing a May, 2006 campaign contribution of $500 from video game publishers' lobbying group the ESA to Huntsman. In an e-mail, Thompson accused the industry of buying Huntsman's veto.

We have verified that the $500 contribution from the ESA was received on behalf of Huntsman's 2004 campaign fund. But for Thompson's assertion to be correct, the ESA would have been prescient, indeed, to forsee - and pay for - a gubernatorial veto three years in advance. One would also have to accept the premise that the Guv could be bought. We asked Thompson about this, but again did not receive a response. 

UPDATE: Some GP readers have requested the Thompson letter to Gov. Huntsman. It follows after the jump.

143 comments | Read more

Utah House Majority Leader: Override of Game Bill Veto Unlikely

March 26, 2009 -

HB 353, the Jack Thompson-conceived video game/movie bill which was vetoed yesterday by Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, is unlikely to return - at least in 2009.

The Deseret News reports that Utah House Majority Leader Kevin Garn (R, left) downplayed the likelihood of an override for either HB 353 or a second, non-game-related measure vetoed by Huntsman yesterday.

I don't see a veto override session called for either of these bills. I think the sponsors should retool them and present them next session.

Garn, however, did praise the legislation:

[HB 353] was a fine example of a bill that sends a message to the sellers of these games of violence and nudity — don't sell to minors, especially if you've advertised that you wouldn't.

24 comments

Leading Utah Newspaper Applauds Veto of Jack Thompson Bill

March 26, 2009 -

Terming it "a bullet dodged," the Salt Lake Tribune has lauded Gov. John Huntsman's veto of HB 353 in an editorial.

Although it did not mention the disbarred Miami attorney, the editorial was unsparing in its criticism of the Jack Thompson-conceived bill:

Somehow, this misguided piece of legislation zoomed through the Legislature with hardly an opposing vote, and, we suspect, without a thorough vetting...

 

This was patently ridiculous legislation, easily challenged in court as unconstitutional...

The bill ignored the fact... [that] the ratings can provide helpful information to parents, but should not supercede a parent's decision to let a child buy a game or DVD. In that, HB353 flew in the face of Utah's traditional support of parents' rights...

 

Is that really what legislators believed they were voting for... ? Probably not, but the legislation's broad language invited a whole set of consequences that were not intended...

In their misplaced zeal to limit access to media they don't like, our legislators might have eliminated the very tools parents need to set limits on what their children see and hear. We dodged a bullet on this one. Having misfired badly, the Legislature should not bring it up again.

10 comments

Utah Bill Sponsor Blames Guv's Veto on Gamer E-mails

March 26, 2009 -

As GamePolitics reported yesterday, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman vetoed HB 353, the Jack Thompson video game/movie bill that would have targeted retailers who sold M-rated games or R-rated movies to minors.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Mike Morley (R-UT), told the Salt Lake Tribune:

I think it's simply a result of an e-mail campaign from a lot of gamers that misrepresent the bill and [the governor's staff] has not studied it closely enough to recognize that is not the case. I think it was crafted very carefully to avoid those issues and I think they're mistaken.

However, a source close to Utah state politics told GamePolitics yesterday that Gov. Huntsman was the subject of intense lobbying from retailers. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Entertainment Software Association mounted a major lobbying campaign as well.

Morley complained to the Deseret News that the Guv didn't give him a courtesy call before vetoing the bill:

I would have thought that just common courtesy would have been to call me.

Legislators are now deciding whether to pursue an override of the veto.

32 comments

BREAKING: Utah Governor Vetoes Video Game/Movie Bill

March 25, 2009 -

Jack Thompson e-mailed GamePolitics a few minutes ago to say that Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) has vetoed HB 353, the video game/movie bill passed overwhelmingly by the Utah House and Senate.

We've also confirmed this with another source in Utah.

According to Thompson, backers of the bill plan to seek an override of the Guv's veto.

We're hearing (not from Thompson) that the word on the street is that retailers lobbied the Guv energetically.

GP: Color me surprised. I did not think that Huntsman would buck the legislature on this one.

UPDATE: Saintless has Gov. Huntsman's explanation of his veto:

After careful consideration and study, I have decided to veto HB 353...

While protecting children from inappropriate materials is a laudable goal, the language of this bill is so broad that it likely will be struck down by the courts as an unconstitutional violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause and/or the First Amendment.

The industries most affected by this new requirement indicated that rather than risk being held liable under this bill, they would likely choose to no longer issue age appropriate labels on goods and services.

 

Therefore, the unintended consequence of the bill would be that parents and children would have no labels to guide them in determining the age appropriateness of the goods or service, thereby increasing children’s potential exposure to something they or their parents would have otherwise determined was inappropriate under the voluntary labeling system now being recognized and embraced by a significant majority of vendors.

137 comments

First Amendment Expert Considers Final Version of Utah Video Game/Movie Bill

March 25, 2009 -

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is now considering whether to sign into law HB 353, the Jack Thompson-conceived video game and movie bill. The Guv has until approximately April 1st to make that decision. In the meantime, the National Coalition Against Censorship, among others, has urged Huntsman to veto the measure.

Along that line, GamePolitics readers may recall that last month, when HB 353 was introduced into the Utah House by Rep. Mike Morley (R), we asked Prof. Clay Calvert, Co-Director of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment at Penn State, to offer his view of the original text of the bill.

Since that time, HB 353 has been substantially amended along the way to passage by the Utah legislature. That being the case, earlier this week we asked Prof. Calvert to revisit the final version of the bill. If you'd like to refer to the subsections mentioned by Prof. Calvert, you'll find them by hitting the jump.

Prof. Calvert's analysis follows:

The [safe harbor] defense provision of [HB 353] (g)(i)(A) not only is vague (what constitutes a documented training program? What is required by Utah to count as such a program?  With whom must it be documented?  Utah?), but it actually is quite burdensome because it only works if a store affirmatively adopts such a training program.  

The defense provision of (g)(i)(B) is helpful to stores because it prevents liability in the case where a minor engages in fraud to purchase a game by using a fake ID. That's a positive step in this revised legislation (which is NOT to say the legislation itself is positive).

One major concern is turning what the bill specifically identifies as a "recommendation" into a mandatory command. The recommendation is made by a private party (presumably the ESRB) and the government now is employing it with the force of law.

 

The National Coalition Against Censorship makes a great point when it states that this bill, "by incorporating the private voluntary ratings system... constitutes an unlawful delegation of legislative authority to a non-governmental entity."

In particular, there is significant legal precedent for this point in the context of violent video game statutes.  In July 2006, a federal district court in Minnesota in the case of Entertainment Software Association v. Hatch... issued an injunction prohibiting that state from enforcing a law that fined those minors under 17 years of age for renting or purchasing video games rated AO or M by the ESRB...

 

A second major concern is that section (u)(ii) simply applies if one "provides that good or service to a buyer subject to the age restriction or recommendation." The law could be improved if it applied to one who "provides that good or service to buyer knowing the age restriction or recommendation on the good or service AND knowing that the buyer is under the age of the restriction or recommendation." 

25 comments | Read more

Leg-Wrestling Utah Congressman Has No Comment on Video Game Bill... But He's a Good Sport About It

March 23, 2009 -

He leg-wrestled Stephen Colbert and even played a Rock Band duet with the popular Comedy Central host, but freshman Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R) offered GamePolitics no comment on his state's controversial video game/movie legislation.

The measure is now on Gov. Jon Huntsman's desk, awaiting signature.

GamePolitics tracked Rep. Chaffetz down on Twitter, where he is jasoninthehouse. To be fair, since he is a federal legislator and HB 353 is a state bill, we didn't really expect he'd be fully briefed - and he wasn't. But the media-savvy - and tech-savvy - Chaffetz is a good sport, as our private Twitter exchange demonstrates:

GamePolitics: Hey, Rep. Chaffetz, any thoughts on HB 353, video game/movie bill now on Gov. Huntsman's desk for signature?

jasoninthehouse: Just not familiar with it... State bill... I have been focused on the federal ones

GamePolitics: Fair enough, but what if I told you that among its provisions was a ban on leg-wrestling with fake news show hosts?

jasoninthehouse: That is funny. I should abide by this and not do any more leg wrestling....I am obviously not very good at it.

GP: For the record, I must point out that the text of my direct messages to Rep. Chaffetz disappeared into the Twitter ether, so I've paraphrased them from memory. Rep. Chaffetz's responses are verbatim. Beyond that, it's nice to see an approachable Congressman on Twitter - especially one with a sense of humor.

9 comments

National Coalition Against Censorship Urges Utah Guv to Veto Video Game/Movie Bill

March 21, 2009 -

Joining those who have called upon Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to veto HB 353 is the National Coalition Against Censorship.

A post on the NCAC website says that the Jack Thompson-conceived bill "takes a voluntary effort by manufacturers to provide consumers with information about their products and turns it into a mechanism to deprive minors of their First Amendment rights."

More from the NCAC:

This bill would hold retailers responsible for selling minors material labeled for mature audiences.  Sellers of books, movies, video games, and music could be penalized up to $2000 for “violating” age guidelines created voluntarily for informational purposes only.

This bill takes a voluntary effort by manufacturers to provide consumers with information about their products and turns it into a mechanism to deprive minors of their First Amendment rights.  By incorporating the private voluntary ratings system, it also constitutes an unlawful delegation of legislative authority to a non-governmental entity...

 

The bill may result in consumers getting less information.  Stores not willing to risk lawsuit or fines for violating age restrictions may simply decide not to display ratings information.  The industry as a whole could even consider dispensing with its voluntary rating system if the result is to make retailers vulnerable to lawsuits and judgments.

We urge Governor Huntsman to veto this problematic bill.

UPDATE: The NCAC has written a letter to Gov. Huntsman urging a veto of HB 353.

Techie Blogger Mom Calls For Guv to Veto Utah Video Game/Movie Bill

March 21, 2009 -

A Utah mom has come out swinging against HB 353. The Jack Thompson-conceived bill, overwhelmingly passed by the Utah House and Senate, is currently just a stroke of Gov. Jon Huntsman's (R) pen away from becoming law.

Misty Fowler (left) is a software developer, mother of two and activist Democrat.

She also pens the politically-oriented Saintless blog.

Fowler writes:

I didn’t feel like [Utah Senate sponsor Margaret] Dayton [R] and [Utah House sponsor Mike] Morley [R] came out to share details of the bill, but to introduce it with the idea that this isn’t a punitive bill, so that maybe we would all have warm fuzzies about how good this was for our children. Because really, think of the children, will you?...

As a parent, I feel very strongly that it’s my responsibility to my children to educate them about what they can play, and why...


The ESRB is accomplishing what it should... The Utah Legislature seems to be approving of ESRB by trying to enforce it...

I don’t want this law passed. Not because I don’t want to protect children. But, because I think it’s a bogus attempt to regulate the ESRB, and won’t do anything for our children. It will cost local businesses money, and is likely to remove some great tools I have in making decisions about video games as a parent.

Ask Governor Huntsman to veto it.

Fowler also questions the bill, given Jack Thompson's involvement.

39 comments

Utah Game/Movie Bill Sent to Governor; Video Game Industry Responds

March 20, 2009 -

UPDATED

Having been passed overwhelmingly by the Utah House and Senate, HB 353, the Jack Thompson-conceived video game/movie bill, is now with Gov. Jon Huntsman (R).

The Guv can decide to sign the measure into law or veto it. He may also do nothing, in which case the bill will automatically become law. Given that Utah conservatives have portrayed the bill as protective of children and Huntsman is rumored to have 2012 presidential aspirations, it's highly unlikely that he will exercise his veto power.

With HB 353 landing on Huntsman's desk, game publishers' lobbying group the Entertainment Software Association has upped the pressure ante a bit. The ESA-owned Video Game Voters Network is running an e-mail campaign which urges Huntsman to veto HB 353.

ESA VP of Communications and Industry Affairs Rich Taylor also criticized the bill in an interview with Salt Lake City public radio station KCPW:

Essentially, what it does it 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.

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

For his part, Jack Thompson has challenged ESA CEO Mike Gallagher to a debate on the bill, but that's an unlikely occurrence.

Assuming that Huntsman signs the bill into law, it will take effect on January 1, 2010. If and when Huntsman signs, the video game industry will decide whether to challenge the measure in federal court.

Also unclear at this point is where the motion picture industry stands on HB 353. If the ESA and EMA (game retailers) sue, will the MPAA join in?

UPDATE: An industry executive who has been actively involved in the fight against HB 353 assures GamePolitics that the MPAA and the National Association of Theatre Owners are fully engaged in opposition to the bill.
 

Utah Bill Sponsor Talks About e-mail From Gamers

March 17, 2009 -

Rep. Mike Morley (R) of the Utah House of Representatieves is apparently getting a lot of e-mail from gamers.

They're not happy.

Morley, of course is the sponsor of HB 353, the Jack Thompson-conceived video game/movie rating enforcment bill which passed overwhelmingly in both the Utah House and Senate.

The Deseret News reports that "various groups" are e-mailing Morley. The legislator told the newspaper:

I was told that there might be some crazies out there... I actually talked to some of these people who sent me crazy e-mails (from Facebook), and everyone one I talked to, after I explained the bill and asked them to read it, didn't think that it would do [what various Web sites said it would]...

 

This is not the end of the world for video-game sales," Morley says. "We are not creating a litigious situation. No one should be concerned.

HB 353 is now before Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R), who has 20 days (from March 12th) to sign the bill into law or veto it.

GP: It seems likely that the Guv will sign HB 353 into law. After that, the next move will be up to the ESA (publishers) and EMA (retailers). Will they pursue a federal court solution? That's unclear at this point because HB 353 is a different kind of animal than previous legislative efforts aimed at video games.

39 comments

Now, Utah Bill Races Against the Clock

March 12, 2009 -

Despite the Utah State Senate's passage of HB 353 by an overwhelming 25-4 margin, the bill is racing against the clock to survive.

Because the Senate amended the bill (more about that later) it now must go back to the Utah House for approval.

The catch is, that all has to happen by midnight in Salt Lake City. Which means that, as I write this, there are about 5.5 hours to get this done. The House is on a dinner break at this moment, which ends at 7:00 P.M. their time, leaving five hours of actual time to work on legislative business.

It seems doable, but HB 353 isn't listed on the House activity calendar yet, so...

UPDATE: Jack Thompson, who drafted the original version of the bill, commented on the time pressure in an e-mail to GamePolitics:

Now it's back to the House with the amended Senate bill, which applies to all sales, including Internet sales. This is fun, and the question is, does it strike midnight before we win?

UPDATE 2: HB 353 status page shows that the House has concurred with the Senate amendments. Next stop for the bill is Gov. Huntsman's desk.

56 comments

BREAKING: Utah Senate Passes Video Game Bill

March 12, 2009 -

Following a lively debate, the Utah State Senate has passed HB 353 by a 25-4 margin.

The bill, originally drafted by disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson, was amended in the Utah Senate prior to this evening's vote.

Because the bill was amended by the Senate, it now goes back to the Utah House which must approve the changes. That step must be completed by midnight when the current legislative session ends.

Sen. Margaret Dayton (R), the measure's sponsor in the Senate, is seen at left speaking about HB 353 during the just-completed debate.

During the debate, Sen. Scott McCoy (D) called the bill a square peg in a round hole. While saying that he personally found Grand Theft Auto disgusting, McCoy also feared that the measure is an inappropriate use of Utah's Truth in Advertising statute and that it will be subject to challenge on constitutional grounds.

Speaking in support of HB 353 was Sen. Chris Buttars (R). The controversial Republican cited the well-known case of Devin Moore, a GTA player who killed two police officers and a dispatcher in 2003. Before being removed from the case by an Alabama judge, Jack Thompson was involved in a wrongful death lawsuit against Rockstar, Sony, Wal-Mart and GameStop based on Moore's rampage. 

Assuming that the House approves the Senate amendment, which seems likely, the measure will proceed to Gov. Jon Huntsman. The Governor may sign it into law or veto the measure.

30 comments

Crunch Time: Utah Senate Must Decide Video Game Bill by Midnight

March 12, 2009 -

It's crunch time for HB353, the video game/movie bill under consideration by the Utah State Senate.

The measure must pass the Senate by midnight or it will die. HB353 will begin the day at #26 on the Senate's to-do list.

The bill was approved 70-2 last week by the Utah House.

GamePolitics will be updating the bill's status throughout the day, and you can check for yourself, too. Here's how:

 - at this link, click S2ND, the last entry under "Location." This will tell you where the bill is in line for Senate consideration.

 - check the Senate calendar for today's date. During the hours when the senators are in session, you can watch or listen, live. It's a very nice feature that we wish all legislative bodies offered. FYI, Utah is on Mountain Time.

HB353 has been especially hot over the last few days with the ESRB and bill sponsor Rep. Mike Morley trading rhetoric and the conservative Media Freedom Project calling on Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to opposed the measure.

For all of GP's HB353 coverage, click here.

25 comments

Conservative Media Watchdog Group Urges Utah Guv to Oppose Video Game Bill

March 10, 2009 -

Terming it a "give away to trial lawyers," a conservative media watchdog group has called upon Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R, at left) to oppose HB 353, which is currently under consideration by the State Senate.

The measure would make retailers who advertise that they abide by age restrictions for video games and movies potentially liable under Utah's truth in advertising law. As reported on GamePolitics, HB 353 passed the State House by a 70-2 margin last week.

Derek Hunter, executive director of the Media Freedom Project, wrote to Huntsman yesterday:

In a state famous for hosting the Sundance Film Festival, amending the [law] to include [video game and movie] transactions would have a chilling effect on the film industry, as well as other retail businesses, and further damage an already ailing economy.

 

Specifically, the Media Freedom Project strongly opposes opening up businesses to lawsuits for underage video game or movie sales. This give away to trial lawyers won’t make kids safer, but will build in dramatically higher costs for small businesses who are already working on strategies to keep kids safe...

 

No crisis exists. Parents are not clamoring for government intervention into the lives of their children...

Should the Utah State Senate pass HB 353 (and they have until Thursday midnight to do so), it would be up to Gov. Huntsman to sign the measure into law or veto it.

Sourcewatch reports that the Media Freedom Project is an offshoot of Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform.

GP: Especially fascinating about the Media Freedom Project's involvement is that they are a conservative group lobbying against a bill that was proposed by a conservative legislator, Rep. Mike Morley, in the most conservative of states, Utah. Moreover, the bill enjoys the backing of the ultra-conservative Utah Eagle Forum and was originally drafted by another conservative, disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson.

DOCUMENT DUMP: Grab a copy of the MFP's letter to Gov. Huntsman here.

37 comments

Texas, Louisiana Guvs Renew Support for Game and Movie Incentives

March 10, 2009 -

A pair of Republican governors are backing renewed or expanded support for financial incentives to encourage video game and other types of media development.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry, last year's E3 keynote speaker, proposed a two-year state budget which includes $60 million worth of sweeteners for the entertainment industry, reports KBMT-12. Speaking at a rally in game development hub Austin last week, Perry said that Texas was losing business to competing states New Mexico and Louisiana.

Speaking of Louisiana, the News-Star reports that Gov. Bobby Jindal hopes to renew inventives aimed at video game, film and music production. The packages currently in place expire by 2010:

The proposals will cost the state $8 million a year when investors cash in the credits, he said, but the state gains much more from having movies, recordings and video games produced here.

“We want to make sure Louisiana keeps a competitive edge,” Jindal said at a press conference.

Both Perry and Jindal are mentioned as possible contenders for the Republican presidential nod in 2012.

13 comments

Wii Stolen in Break-in at Senate Game Critic's Home

March 10, 2009 -

Perhaps it's for his grandchildren.

A Nintendo Wii was among items taken in a burglary of the Topeka home of U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), reports the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Brownback, a long-time critic of the video game industry, has twice proposed Senate legislation aimed at forcing the ESRB to play games to completion before assigning a rating. He has also taken Sony to task for the use of Congo coltan in the PlayStation 2.

Brownback, who once harbored presidential aspirations, said last year that he would not run for re-election to the Senate in 2010. Instead, he is considered a likely contender for the governor's position in Kansas.

Also missing from his home were a laptop, flat screen TV, check book and jewelry. The case is under investigation by local police.

5 comments

PC World: Utah Game Bill "Dangerously Wrong"

March 9, 2009 -

PC World's Matt Peckham weighs in on HB 353, the much-discussed Utah bill originally drafted by Jack Thompson.

Peckham agrees with ESRB President Patricia Vance that the bill could prove to be a disincentive to Utah retailers to do the right thing:

The most recent amended version of H.B. 353 is a sobering bellwether of much worse to come if it passes the Utah state senate... Instead of ensuring game retailers do as they say, the bill in fact encourages them to do the exact opposite and stop promising they won't sell Mature-rated games like Fable 2 and Fallout 3 and Resident Evil 5 to underage kids and/or teens.

That's because Utah's H.B. 353 effectively criminalizes retail sales of video games to customers who don't meet a game's ratings strictures...

 

The non-cynical view: H.B. 353 is an attempt to pull game ratings under the umbrella of Utah's prevailing "truth in advertising" guidelines.

The cynical view: The bill's promoters are trying to backdoor anti-ESRB legislation by using a potentially over-broad state policy to increase governmental control of private sector activities and declare self-regulatory triumphs null and void...

UPDATE: Jack Thompson has posted a reply to Peckham's column:

All [major retailers] have publicly committed, and promised Congress, that they will participate in the game rating system and abide by it... They simply cannot now opt out of the ESRB system... Their public endorsement of the rating system is an "advertisement" under this bill...

 

[ESRB head Patricia] Vance says their is an industry "audit" which says that Utah game retailers are 94% compliant with the game ratings. She refuses to produce the audit...

GP: I must point out that Thompson's assertion that a company's merely signing on to abide by the ESRB ratings constitutes an "advertisement" seems a dubious one, at best.

23 comments

Newt Gingrich Gushes About Wife's New Wii on Twitter

March 5, 2009 -

Conservative Newt Gingrich has been posting on Twitter about a Nintendo Wii that his wife, Callista,  received as a birthday present.

The former House Speaker, a hardcore mobile Twitter user, has mentioned the Wii at least twice since last evening:

# Callista got a wii from the cushmans and the lubbers for her birthday A lot of bowling golf and tennis to come ...about 18 hours ago from TwitterBerry

 

# @amlebus callista got a wii for her birthday yesterday. She is excited and wants to golf and bowl with our grandchildren    ...about 7 hours ago from TwitterBerry   

8 comments

Lobbyist: Amendments Reduced Impact of Utah Legislation

March 4, 2009 -

Earlier today, GamePolitics spoke with Dave Davis of the Utah Retail Merchants Association.

Davis argued against the original, Jack Thompson-authored version of HB353 during a committee hearing last week. But amendments subsequently added by sponsor Rep. Mike Morley (left) persuaded Davis to drop his group's opposition:

We went from adamantly opposed to the bill to a position of neutrality. We still weren't supporting the bill but we had dropped our opposition based on the fact that [Rep. Morley] had made several favorable amendments for our retailers...

 

The bill was rolling forward and in its first form, it was completely unacceptable. Rep. Morley and the legislature could have very well - and probably would have - passed it in its original form. What we were able to do was secure some safe harbor exemptions for retailers.

Although Davis didn't suggest it, GP asked if the practice of age-gating M-rated game content on websites might offer a measure of protection from HB353's penalties for online retailers:

[Under the amended bill] if a buyer intentionally misrepresents their age, then the retailer wouldn't be subject to penalty. Keep in mind that this statute only applies to retailers who are advertising that they don't sell M-rated games or R-rated movies to underage people.

 

You would have to have a specific [advertisement] that you do not sell the age-restricted product to underage people... Just discussing the [existence of the] rating system would not bring [retailers] under the auspices of "advertising..."

 

If [a retailer] had an incident with one of their clerks, we've now provided a safe harbor where, if they've provided some training for that clerk on how to handle those age-restricted products, they would not be liable...

Davis expects the measure to pass its next hurdle, the Utah State Senate.

29 comments

Game Biz Opposes Utah Bill

March 4, 2009 -

The video game industry is beginning to respond - and not in a positive way - to yesterday's passage of HB353, a Jack Thompson-conceived bill, by the Utah House of Representatives.

As GamePolitics reported late yesterday, the Entertainment Merchants Association, which represents a large bloc of game retailers, remains opposed to the measure.

That news seemed to contradict bill sponsor Rep. Mike Morley's assertion during yesterday's hearing that amendments to the proposal had caused "retailers" to drop their opposition. However, Morley was apparently referring to the more general-purpose Utah Retail Merchants Association (more on that below).

The Escapist heard from Dan Hewitt of game publishers' trade group the ESA:

[HB 353 is] a solution in search of a problem. The fact is, Utah has a 94% [retailer ratings] enforcement rate when it comes to video games. Also, Utah state legislators are unfairly targeting video games. Representative Morley's anti-video game bill would expose game retailers to frivolous lawsuits if the store promotes the ESRB rating system.

The perverse effect of this bill is that Utah retailers will stop promoting the ESRB rating system, which has been applauded by media watchdog groups like the National Institute on Media and the Family and the Federal Trade Commission. In short, this is a step back for parents and undercuts the positive work of the ESRB and others who promote the tools and resources available to parents.

28 comments

BREAKING: Jack Thompson Bill Under Discussion in Utah House

March 3, 2009 -

We caught the webcast just as it was beginning. What follows is essentially a live blogging of today's hearing...

The Utah House has just begun deliberations on HB 353, the video game/movie bill originally crafted by disbarred attorney Jack Thompson. The first order of business was to pass amendments to the measure.

With amendments passed the discussion on the bill has begun. Rep. Michael Morley, bill sponsor, is now speaking. Morley can be seen in the screenshot at left, taken moments ago from the webcast of the hearing. View it live.

So far, the legislators who have spoken are uniformly behind the measure, which appears to enjoy bi-partisan support. Speaking on behalf of the bill:

  • Rep. Brian King (D)
  • Rep. Sheryl Allen (R) - Allen discussed the growing importance of Utah's video game industry
  • Rep. Kraig Powell (R)
  • Rep. Steven Mascaro (R) - wanted clarification on how bill language affects retailers
  • Rep. Susan Duckworth (D) - commended Morley for making amendments and reminded the body of parental responsibility

Rep. Morley, summarizing, said that "retailers" are no longer opposed to the bill, which indicates that the amendments may have watered down the potential impact of HB 353.  Morley said that some movie owners also have dropped their opposition.

Voting now occurring... HB 353 passes 70-2. The measure will now move to the Utah Senate for consideration.

Thompson has just e-mailed a comment:

70-2. This is a huge victory for parents everywhere.  The bill, by the amendments we fashioned, is better. Now we go on to the Senate, where I expect passage, with the Governor then likely to sign it into law!  

UPDATE: The amendments link has been updated to incorporate the most recent changes (Feb. 27).

UPDATE 2: We have learned that the Entertainment Merchants Association, which represents video game retailers, remains opposed to the bill. Morley's comment concerning retailers dropping their opposition was likely referring to the Utah retailers' trade group.

77 comments

Nebraska State Auditor Employs Fuzzy Logic to Zing Gaming Librarians

March 2, 2009 -

Last week GamePolitics reported that some Nebraska librarians were under investigation by State Auditor Mike Foley (R) for - horrors! - purchasing a PlayStation 2 and Rock Band set for use in the library.

Foley's final report on Nebraska's library system is now out, including his findings on the video game issue:

[Library] Commission employees have occasionally provided their own personal game consoles for trainings and demonstrations...

GP: Now that's dedication, a quality that government bureaucracy is so good at beating out of its employees. No good deed, as they say, goes unpunished.

The purchase of gaming equipment is a questionable use of public funds. It is common
knowledge that children enjoy games and toys, so there appears to have been little need to
purchase the games.

GP: Wait - kids like games, so the library shouldn't buy them? Does that mean they should expend their budget on things that people don't like? WTH?

Moreover, none of the games purchased were so complicated or out of the ordinary as to require the Commission to demonstrate their use to library staff and others...

GP: Because absolutely everyone who walks into a Nebraska library - including older librarians - has an innate sense of how to set up and play Rock Band or Dance Dance Revolution? Thankfully, the Library Commission defended it employees against the Foley-crats:

Gaming equipment and games have become increasingly popular and in demand resources for library programming and service. The Library Commission purchased game equipment in response to requests from Nebraska librarians for demonstration and instruction. The Library Commission’s actions in acquiring gaming equipment and a few representative games are proper and in accord with the agency’s state statutory mission and its purposes in introducing new technologies, techniques and providing information and instruction in the use of these technologies.
 

GP: Bureaucracy... Grrrr...

Via: Nebraska State Paper

UPDATE: Cornfed Gamer has a terrific report on the situation with lots of additional details.

Newt Gingrich: Be Anti-Labor Union, Win a Wii

February 28, 2009 -

Conservative Newt Gingrich is back, and he's exploiting the Nintendo Wii for political gain.

By way of backstory, there is a pro-union bill, the Employee Free Choice Act, currently before the Congress. The Huffington Post reports that Gingrich views the legislation as "a mortal threat to American freedom."

(GP: Because, you know, rich guys and corporations should have all the power in our society.)

Speaking this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington D.C., Gingrich reminded attendees that they could register to win a free Wii by signing up for American Solutions, Gingrich's new media campaign.

The Huff Post has a comment on the Wii giveaway from an unnamed union official:

Is this part of [new RNC chairman] Michael Steele's hip-hop revolution? Or is being against working families so lame that they have to bribe kids with a Wii to do it?

96 comments

 
Forgot your password?
Username :
Password :

Poll

Is King right? Should all games adopt the free-to-play model?:

Shout box

You're not permitted to post shouts.
Andrew EisenAs it happens, Chinatown Wars is the only GTA game I've played.04/19/2014 - 10:43am
Papa MidnightWith GTA5 (to date) failing to even provide indication of a PC release, I'm realising that this might be the first GTA game that I have not played (outside of Chinatown Wars) since the series inception.04/19/2014 - 8:14am
IanCSo im guessing a bunch of edutainment games, which a lot of people elsewhere are going gaga over, dot count as classics? Okay. If you don't mind me, i have a sudden urge to play Putt Putt....04/19/2014 - 6:15am
MaskedPixelantehttp://www.joystiq.com/2014/04/18/playstation-99-cent-sale-discounts-tokyo-jungle-super-stardust/ Weekend long PSN flash sale. So much stuff is 99 cents for the rest of the weekend.04/18/2014 - 5:59pm
Adam802http://www.polygon.com/2014/4/18/5627928/newtown-video-game-addiction-forum04/18/2014 - 4:14pm
Matthew Wilsonit is a video talking about why certain games/products/consoles do well, and others do not. he back it up with solid research.04/18/2014 - 3:56pm
Andrew EisenI'm not keen on blind links. What is it?04/18/2014 - 3:45pm
Matthew Wilsonthis is worth a whatch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyXcr6sDRtw&list=PL35FE5C4B157509C904/18/2014 - 3:43pm
MaskedPixelanteNumber 3: Night Dive was brought to the attention of the public by a massive game recovery, and yet most of their released catalogue consists of games that other people did the hard work of getting re-released.04/17/2014 - 8:46pm
MaskedPixelanteNumber 2: If Humongous Entertainment wanted their stuff on Steam, why didn't they talk to their parent company, which does have a number of games published on Steam?04/17/2014 - 8:45pm
MaskedPixelanteNumber 1: When Night Dive spent the better part of a year teasing the return of true classics, having their big content dump be edutainment is kind of a kick in the stomach.04/17/2014 - 8:44pm
Matthew Wilsonhttp://www.giantbomb.com/articles/jeff-gerstmann-heads-to-new-york-takes-questions/1100-4900/ He talks about the future games press and the games industry. It is worth your time even though it is a bit long, and stay for the QA. There are some good QA04/17/2014 - 5:28pm
IanCErm so they shouldn't sell edutainment at all? Why?04/17/2014 - 4:42pm
MaskedPixelanteNot that linkable, go onto Steam and there's stuff like Pajama Sam on the front-page, courtesy of Night Dive.04/17/2014 - 4:13pm
Andrew EisenOkay, again, please, please, PLEASE get in a habit of linking to whatever you're talking about.04/17/2014 - 4:05pm
MaskedPixelanteAnother round of Night Dive teasing and promising turns out to be stupid edutainment games. Thanks for wasting all our time, guys. See you never.04/17/2014 - 3:44pm
Matthew WilsonAgain the consequences were not only foreseeable, but very likely. anyone who understood supply demand curvs knew that was going to happen. SF has been a econ/trade hub for the last hundred years.04/17/2014 - 2:45pm
Andrew EisenMixedPixelante - Would you like to expand on that?04/17/2014 - 2:43pm
MaskedPixelanteWell, I am officially done with Night Dive Studios. Unless they can bring something worthwhile back, I'm never buying another game from them.04/17/2014 - 2:29pm
PHX Corphttp://www.msnbc.com/ronan-farrow/watch/video-games-continue-to-break-the-mold-229561923638 Ronan Farrow Daily on Video games breaking the mold04/17/2014 - 2:13pm
 

Be Heard - Contact Your Politician