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Pennsylvania State Rep Proposes Tax on Mature Video Games

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Much like the idiotic tax on sugary drinks in Philadelphia, we have learned that Christopher B. Quinn (R) of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has proposed a 10% tax on mature rated video games.

House Bill 2705 was submitted on September 25th, and proposes: “A tax is imposed on each separate sale at retail of video games which have an adults only rating or mature rating according to the rating system established by the [ESRB].”

The bill continues, stating the tax shall be at 10% of the purchase price and that “The additional rate of tax shall be in addition to any applicable State and local sales taxes.” The proposal does lay out where the money collected from this tax will go.

“The secretary of the department shall deposit the money remitted under this subsection into the General Fund. Section 2203. Digital Protection for School Safety Account.” The aforementioned account is used for “the purpose of enhancing school safety measures implemented by school districts as provided by the laws of this Commonwealth.”

Co-sponsors include Representatives Stephen Barrar (R), Steven C. Mentzer (R), and Rosita C. Youngblood (D). Quinn’s memo when he submitted the bill states:

“Over the past few years, acts of violence in schools seem to be occurring more frequently and with more intensity. From Colorado to Connecticut to most recently in Parkland, Florida, students have experienced unthinkable actions by peers in a place that should promote learning and enrichment, safety and protection.”

He then cites a quote from a study by The National Center for Health Research as one factor in the increase of school violence:

“Studies have shown that playing violent video games can increase aggressive thoughts, behaviors, and feelings in both the short-term and long-term. Violent video games can also desensitize people to seeing aggressive behavior and decrease prosocial behaviors such as helping another person and feeling empathy (the ability to understand others). The longer that individuals are exposed to violent video games, the more likely they are to have aggressive behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.”

This contradicts several other studies already conducted before (and the common sense of our own Cody Gulley), and the issues with school violence usually stem from the perpetrators suffering from abuse and mental illness in a case-by-case basis.

Even the bottom line of the aforementioned study by the National Center for Health Research says:

“It is important to keep in mind that violent video game exposure is only one risk factor of aggressive behavior. For example, mental illness, adverse environments, and access to guns are all risk factors of aggression and violence.”

The Media Coalition- a group who supports distributors and producers of entertainment with their First Amendment Rights- is opposed to the bill, and believes an older precedent set in a U.S. Supreme Court case overrides it:

“We believe that the proposed legislation to impose a 10 percent sales tax on video games with violent content is clearly an unconstitutional content-based punishment on speech. […]

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that video games are fully protected by the First Amendment. In Brown v. Entertainment Merch. Ass’n and Entertainment Software Ass’n, the Court struck down a California law that banned minors from buying or renting video games with certain violent imagery. 564 U.S. 786 (2011). The Court held that video games are entitled to full constitutional protection the same as books, newspapers, movies or music.”

The memo continues, and quotes former Supreme Justice Scalia:

“[L]ike the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas—and even social messages—through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world). That suffices to confer First Amendment protection.”

The memo also states that “He added that the interactive nature of video games does not provide any support for treating them differently than other media.” The memo continues with how Scalia stated that “there was no long time practice of regulating speech with violent content”.

“California’s argument would fare better if there were a longstanding tradition in this country of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence, but there is none.”

The full quote continues (from Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Assn.)

“Certainly the books we give children to read – or read to them when they are younger – contain no shortage of gore. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed. As her just deserts for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers ’till she fell dead on the floor, a sad example of envy and jealousy.’ Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves. And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven.”

The Media Coalition states that since there is no precedent for restricting free speech based on violent content, that there needs to be a “strict scrutiny” for the tax to be approved of by the government, as the First Amendment bans taxes based on content of speech.

If that was not enough, the memo cites one final reason this bill may be unconstitutional.

“Even if the media effects research demonstrated a stronger connection between consumption of media with violent content and future antisocial behavior, the Supreme Court has dismissed this reasoning as a justification for punishing speech.

In Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, Justice Kennedy writing for the majority said, “The Government may not prohibit speech because it increases the chance an unlawful act will be committed ‘at some indefinite future time.’” 535 U.S. 234, 253 (2002) (citing Hess v. Indiana, 414 U.S. 105, 108 (1973) (per curium)).

The limited exception to this rule is for speech that explicitly advocates actual violence or illegal activity, but only if it is intended to incite imminent unlawful activity and is likely to do so. See, Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969).”

It seems Quinn and his co-sponsers may have an uphill battle if they are met with such arguments nearer the vote. We will keep you updated as this story develops.

In other news, PlayStation users in Chicago have now been subjected to a 9% entertainment tax.

Ryan Pearson

About

Taking his first steps onto Route 1 and never stopping, Ryan has had a love of RPGs since a young age. Now he's learning to appreciate a wider pallet of genres and challenges.