Guv vetoes video-game bill

He believes measure has First Amendment issues

Published: Thursday, March 26 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Agreeing with freedom-of-speech proponents and video gamers, including one group formed by artists, moviemakers and writers, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. vetoed a video-game truth-in-advertising bill Wednesday.

He also vetoed a more obscure bill (HB156) that could cause sewage and water problems on poorly subdivided agricultural lands.

But the HB353 veto clearly puts Huntsman in the sights of some conservative Utah Republicans, who were already upset with him over his support of the Common Ground Initiative, several bills that were supported by gay-rights groups and quickly killed in the 2009 Legislature.

"We believe there are commerce-clause and First-Amendment issues" with HB353, said Lisa Roskelley, Huntsman's spokeswoman. "It is a laudable goal to protect children from inappropriate materials, but the governor is concerned that this bill doesn't do that."

Those claims were denied by House GOP leaders and Rep. Mike Morley, R-Spanish Fork, the bill's sponsor, who said they were surprised and displeased with the governor's veto — the first this year among 450 bills passed by the 2009 Legislature.

Huntsman's veto of HB353, his "green agenda" and his support of the Common Ground Initiative "certainly give the impression that he is out of touch with mainstream Utah," said Morley, a noted House conservative. "He's a moderate, not a conservative. And his recent actions don't seem to square with the majority in the Legislature, either."

Morley said he found out that his bill would be vetoed through a voice message from a Huntsman aide left Wednesday afternoon. "It's too bad I couldn't talk to him. His reasons" for the veto in a veto letter "are not correct," Morley said.

House Majority Leader Kevin Garn, R-Layton, said HB353 was a "good" bill aimed at keeping video games with violence and nudity away from children.

Huntsman may not be through with his vetoes. He has until April 1 to sign, veto or allow bills to become law without his signature.

While displeased with the veto, Garn said: "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."

House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, said he questions whether either bill "had the emotion" that might bring House members to call themselves into an override session. Still, he said he would poll all members to see if there was the two-thirds support needed for an override. The bill passed in the House 63-3 and in the Senate 25-4. It would take 50 House votes and 20 Senate votes to override Huntsman's veto.

Jon Dean, executive producer of EA Salt Lake, a local maker of video games, told the Deseret News that Huntsman's veto "is a win for Utah families and particularly gamers."

Dean said if the bill became law, there would be no incentive for retailers to keep the current, voluntary game-rating system. "It would eliminate protections in place to keep kids from getting their hands on inappropriate material."

Morley said that he had the support of the Utah Retailers Association and other groups interested in keeping violent video games out of the reach of under-age children. He said he was surprised by some of the reaction to HB353 after it passed, adding that he talked to some of the video gamers who were sending him e-mails and, once he had explained, they didn't oppose the bill.

HB353 didn't ban the sale of M-rated videos to minors, and didn't deal with the video industries' own, purely voluntary, video-rating system, Morley said.

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