The phrase, "Let the buyer beware" may soon take on a special meaning for gamers in Minnesota.
Yesterday, by a 114-17 vote, the Minnesota House passed a measure introduced by State Rep. Jeff Johnson (R), who is also a candidate for Attorney General.
As reported by Minnesota Public Radio, Johnson's bill, HF1298, requires retailers to post signs which explain the video game rating system. Of greater concern to gamers and the video game industry, however, is a $25 civil fine which can be assessed against underage buyers of M or AO-rated games. This approach is quite novel, since video game legislation typically places the onus on retailers, not customers.
GamePolitics spoke to Rep. Johnson about his unusual bill last night.
"We were trying to pass the narrowest bill possible just to try something different from a constitutional challenge standpoint," he explained. Johnson expects the Minnesota Senate to approve the bill sometime on Saturday. Should that happen it will be sent to Gov. Tim Pawlenty for signature. While Gov. Pawlenty has not said so publicly, according to Johnson he has given some indications that he would be receptive to signing the bill into law. Should the Guv sign the proposed legislation into law, Johnson fully expects the video game industry to challenge its implementation.
"It's a little frustrating," he said, "when you take their own rating (system) and you try to create what is really a pretty insignificant restriction and they say, 'well, we're still going to come in and fight and it's going to cost you a million bucks. They claim it's because of the First Amendment."
In speaking with GP, Rep. Johnson was quite realistic about the measure's chances in face of the video game industry's inevitable court challenge.
"There are two potential constitutional problems," Johnson said. "One is that we are using the ESRB ratings. I can see a court saying you can't use private industry to create the law, but there's no way around that because everything else anyone has tried has been unsuccessful. The other piece is that so far no court has found a strong enough link (between game violence and youth violence)."
Johnson also told GP that the video game industry had done "significant lobbying" against his bill, contracting with two local lobbyists to oppose the measure.
GP: A shout-out to GP reader Will for the tip on the Minnesota House vote!