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Oklahoma bill proposes extra tax on violent games

Oklahoma bill proposes extra tax on violent games

February 2, 2012 | By Eric Caoili

A new bill proposed in Oklahoma seeks to add an extra 1 percent tax on "all violent games" -- a measure that the Entertainment Software Association has described as "patently unconstitutional."

The bill is the latest in a series of legislation that has targeted the video game industry, such as the 2005 California law that sought to block the sale of violent video games to minors without parent approval, but was struck down and ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Democratic state representative William Fourkiller introduced the bill (HB #2696), and proposes that Oklahoma attach a 1 percent levy -- on top of existing sales taxes -- to games that have been rated Teen, Mature, or Adult Only by the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

The bill would also create two new funds: the Childhood Outdoor Education Revolving Fund for promoting outdoor education initiatives; and the Bullying Prevention Revolving Fund for preventing bullying in schools. Money raised from the new tax would be split between the programs.

It's a similar approach to a bill proposed in New Mexico in 2008, HB #583, which sought to apply an extra 1 percent tax to all video games, video game consoles, and televisions, and fund outdoor education programs. That bill failed to clear the state legislature.

"Violent video games contribute to some of our societal problems like obesity and bullying, but because they raise a lot of revenue, they can also provide part of the solution," said Fourkiller (pictured), who is up for reelection in his district this November.

If the bill is passed by the local House of Representatives and Senate, and then signed by Oklahoma's governor, it would take effect on July 1. Fourkiller declared the bill an emergency, calling it "immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health, and safety."

"I hold no animosity toward the video game industry," said Fourkiller. "Their products contribute to the diverse 'market of ideas' protected by our First Amendment that helps make America great."

He continued, "However, some of these products contribute to problems that can be mitigated in part by a minimal levy such as the one I propose. The legislation I propose imposes a minimal burden, which could reap benefits many times greater."

The Entertainment Software Association, a trade group for the video game industry that has traditionally fought legislation like HB #2696, commented on the proposed bill and said, "Taxing First Amendment protected material based on its content is misguided."

"We are disappointed that even in the wake of an overwhelming decision in the United States Supreme Court finding proposals such as this to be patently unconstitutional, there are those who still try to attack video games with outdated notions of our industry," said ESA's Dan Hewitt in a statement provided to Gamasutra.

Hewitt added, "Our industry is already working with schools, elected officials and numerous health advocates to highlight the positive health contributions video games are making to lives. As with other forms of entertainment, games should be used in moderation as part of a healthy lifestyle and are not a major contributor to obesity."

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