Constitutional concerns notwithstanding, a legislative committee on Wednesday approved a measure that would prevent Utah youth from accessing violent video games.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Scott Wyatt, R-Logan, would amend the state's Material Harmful to Minors Act to include inappropriate violence in video games that "appeals to the morbid interest of minors."
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff previously warned members of the Judiciary Interim Committee that the bill, if challenged in court, would have a high likelihood of being declared unconstitutional.
Still, a number of committee members on Wednesday argued that protecting children is worth fighting the $25 billion a year video game industry.
"Somewhere we have to stand up as citizens and parents and legislators and say, 'That's enough,'" said Rep. Dave Hogue, R-Riverton. "I very seriously think that we need to push this forward and find if we're going to have a challenge or not and have the attorney general fight those battles."
Hogue sponsored a similar measure in the 2006 Legislature. That bill passed the Utah House on a 56-8 vote, but was never heard in the Senate. Hogue did not run for re-election, so he will not be in office to carry the bill through the 2007 legislative session.
Eight other states have passed similar measures, and seven have been declared unconstitutional, according to Wednesday's testimony. A Louisiana measure, which is the closest in wording to Utah's proposed bill, has been preliminarily enjoined as a challenge of the law works its way through the federal courts there.
Wyatt, an attorney, said he believes the Utah measure could withstand a court challenge.
"My impression is the bill is drafted extremely conservatively and has a fair chance of being constitutional," said Wyatt, adding he will pull the bill if additional research indicates otherwise.
Committee members expressed concern about knowingly putting the state in an expensive and lengthy court battle.Comment on this story
"I certainly applaud the efforts and the sentiment to protect our kids, I think that is absolutely valid and an honorable goal," said Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, who is also an attorney. "But I think it is incumbent on us to at least acknowledge that there are some high legal hurdles that stand in our way. ... Is this the way that we want to spend taxpayers' money?"Six lawmakers voted against the measure, which was not enough to stop it from moving forward to another committee hearing in the upcoming legislative session.