In late November, Senators Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman, and Evan Bayh vowed to introduce a bill that would federally mandate enforcement of the ESRB ratings system when the Senate resumed; now, they've made good on their promise and the Family Entertainment Protection Act has been formally introduced.
Like many state-level bills that have sprung up in states such as California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, and Delaware -- with the Michigan and Illinois bills so far ruled unconstitutional or blocked in the courts -- the bill would impose fines of $1,000 or 100 hours of community service for the first act of selling Mature or Adults-Only games to minors, with $5,000 or 500 hours for each additional offense. (Ratings Pending games are also named in the bill, but in practice, no released game carrying an ESRB seal will carry the Ratings Pending mark; the bill does not mention unrated games.)
In addition to the retailer penalties, the bill also calls for a Federal Trade Commission investigation into the Entertainment Software Ratings Board to determine whether games are being properly rated, due to the outcry over previously-inaccessible sex scenes in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas leading to a change in the game's rating from M to AO.
The bill allows for the special commission to "take appropriate action" if it finds that there is a pervasive problem in the ESRB's ratings process. The bill also allows the FTC to conduct a random audit of retailers to determine whether retailers are complying with the legislation.
"The holiday season is a particularly important time to raise awareness of this issue. Video games are hot holiday items, and there are certainly wonderful games that help our children learn and increase hand and eye coordination. However, there are also games that are just not appropriate for our nationís youth," said Senator Clinton. "This bill will help empower parents by making sure their kids canít walk into a store and buy a video game that has graphic, violent and pornographic content."