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Huntsman zaps video-games bill

Published March 26, 2009 1:29 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. vetoed two bills Wednesday, including one aimed at cracking down on retailers who sell violent or sexually graphic video games to minors.

"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 unconstitutional," Huntsman wrote to legislative leaders notifying them of his decision.

Huntsman also said that, rather than risk the liability, retailers would choose to stop putting the rating labels on their products.

"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," he wrote.

Rep. Michael Morley, R-Spanish Fork, the sponsor of HB353, said his legislation fell victim to a lobbying campaign that distorted the facts.

"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," Morley said. "I think it was crafted very carefully to avoid those issues and I think they're mistaken."

Morley's bill would have allowed civil penalties of up to $2,000 plus attorneys fees against stores that sell inappropriate video games to children after advertising that they do not. The measure contained protections for retailers who offer training to their employees and the retailers could not have been held accountable for their first two violations.

"As game developers, we want to make sure that the games we're making are being enjoyed by the audiences they were intended for," said Jon Dean, an executive producer with the Salt Lake division of EA Sports. He said the voluntary rating system in place has been "tremendously successful" in meeting that goal, but Morley's bill "would have had a counterproductive effect."

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said Wednesday that his office had "raised concerns with several different iterations of the bill" while it was under consideration by 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 said. "The governor apparently decided it wasn't worth the risk."

The bill passed the House and Senate with overwhelming support, leaving open the possibility that lawmakers could opt to override the governor's veto.

House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, said leaders would poll their members to determine if there is two-thirds support for taking on the veto. "At first blush, it just seems they are fairly broadly supported bills."

The Entertainment Software Association mounted a major campaign, lobbying Huntsman to veto HB353.

The National Coalition Against Censorship also opposed the bill, arguing the legislation would have unintended consequences.

The governor also vetoed HB156, which would have allowed landowners in rural counties to allocate one parcel per 100 acres that could be turned into a subdivision without regard to local ordinances.

Huntsman said the bill sponsored by Rep. Curt Webb, R-Logan, would have created "significant problems in terms of access, sewer and waste water, roads and utility services for citizens and communities."

"Additionally, our remaining agricultural lands will be fragmented by allowing one acre per one hundred to be divided out for separate development," he wrote.

The vetoes were the first this year and only the eighth and ninth of his tenure. Huntsman has signed about 350 bills so far this year and has another 100 to review.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. on Wednesday signed another 98 bills. They include:

SB40 » Sen. Curtis Bramble, requires an individual to provide a Social Security card and other proof of citizenship to obtain a driver license, beginning Jan. 1, 2010.

HB290 » Rep. Stephen Clark, prohibits text messaging or e-mailing while driving.

HB240 » Rep. Rhonda Menlove, creates a new category of crime for wanton destruction of livestock.

HB410 » Rep. Ron Bigelow, implements a 10 percent salary cut ($13 per day) for legislators.

HB392 » Rep. Don Ipson, allows the Public Service Commission to authorize a lower rate for natural-gas vehicle owners, subsidized by other natural gas customers.

SB13 » Sen. Margaret Dayton, prohibits administering sedatives, birth control or harmful materials to wildlife.

HB151 » Rep. Chris Herrod, allows criminal forfeiture of a vehicle by a repeat drunken driving offender when driving with a suspended or revoked license.