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Violent games bill passes California Legislature

Governor Schwarzenegger has 30 days to sign AB1179 or veto it; bill would take effect January 1.

The California Assembly has adjourned until next year, but not before squeezing a few bills in under the wire. One such bill was Assemblyman Leland Yee's AB1179, which looks to prohibit retailers from selling violent games to minors, lest they be fined $1,000 for each violation.

AB1179 was passed by the California Senate yesterday by a vote of 22-9. The bill then went back to the Assembly, where it was approved 65-7. Now the bill goes to the desk of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who must sign or veto the bill by October 9.

"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," said speaker pro tempore Yee in a statement.

If signed by Schwarzenegger, AB1179 would go into effect January 1, 2006.

Yee has previously introduced similar legislation to this effect, and while one such bill was signed into law by Schwarzenegger last year, it had been thoroughly watered down along the way. Yee's AB450 (which eventually became AB1179), stalled in the legislature earlier this year, but the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Hot Coffee scandal once again attracted public attention to the issue and spurred the bill out of its legislative limbo.

Yee's bill also would require violent games to be labeled as being for sale to adults only by way of a solid white "18" sticker no smaller than 2 inches by 2 inches on the front of the package; the "18" would be outlined in black. For an idea of how visible that sticker will be, keep in mind that Game Boy Advance boxes are slightly smaller than 5 inches by 5 inches.

The bill makes no mention of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) or its ratings system, instead offering its own definition of what constitutes a violent video game. According to the bill, that would be "a video game in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being," so long as it's offensive to community standards and without artistic merit or allows players to hurt other characters "in a manner which is especially heinous, cruel, or depraved in that it involves torture or serious physical abuse to the victim." The bill also defines terms like heinous, cruel, and torture. However, with no definitive governing body set up to determine in advance which games fall into this category, it appears publishers and retailers will have to decide for themselves what fits the government's definition of a violent game, and worry about fines and legislation later.

Other states have instituted laws like this before, but previous attempts have been declared unconstitutional. At the moment, an Illinois law banning the sale of violent games to minors is being challenged, and the dispute is likely to be fought on a nationwide level in the coming months. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) called for federal legislation in the wake of the Hot Coffee scandal, though nothing has come of that yet.

Interestingly enough, Yee's bill, the full text of which is available by searching for AB1179 on the State Assembly's Web site, does not require labeling of games containing consensual sex of the sort that tipped off the Hot Coffee controversy in the first place.

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