House Bill 2696, initially introduced on January 19th, calls for an excise tax on all violent video games based on gross proceeds and receipts of each sale and includes items brought over state lines as well (i.e. online purchases). “Violent” games are classified as all titles that receive a rating of Teen, Mature, or Adults Only by the Entertainment Software Review Board (ESRB).The 1% sales tax would be on top of Oklahoma’s state income tax of 4.5% as well as whatever tax rate local municipalities charge (full charts available here).
All proceeds drawn from the bill would be devoted to two separate funds: the Childhood Outdoor Education Revolving Fund, which is intended to promote nature-oriented physical programmes to fight childhood obesity; and the Bullying Prevention Revolving Fund, intended to prevent bullying in schools.
Gaming Bus has asked the office of Rep. Fourkiller for comment but has not received a response from the representative as of press time.
The act would go into effect on July 1, 2012. However, it has been put under emergency conditions, which states that it is important to the “preservation of the public peace, health and safety,” so the act would take effect after passage.
A similar bill was proposed in New Mexico in 2008, with the difference being that HB 583 sought to tax all video games, consoles, and televisions with the intention of funding anti-obesity programmes. That bill did not make it out of legislature. In the Oklahoma House, Republicans outnumber Democrats 69-32 with one seat vacant.
Rep. Fourkiller is a freshman in the Oklahoma house and was a registered nurse and schoolteacher before taking office. According to Vote Smart, his only key vote has been in opposition to a bill restricting the rights of city employees to collectively bargain with cities of over 35,000 people.
The bill is embedded at the bottom of this article.
Analysis: My opposition to such an unbelievably shortsighted, pandering bill should be obvious by this point; I hate it, even if it’s likely never going anywhere. However, there are a few other questions about this which Rep. Fourkiller didn’t seem to take into account or pooh-poohed. It should be noted again that he hasn’t responded to our request for comment or that of other sites.
For one, this places a tax only on violent video games. Why not movies? Is Rep. Fourkiller one of those people that think that only seeing violence is somehow better than expereincing it in a virtual setting? Other than his outdated teaching experience, where does he draw this conclusion, if he’s even drawn it?
Secondly, teen-rated games are listed as being violent. However, while violence is a contributing factor in a game getting a T rating, it’s not the only reason; games can get a T rating without having any violence in them whatsoever or having even just “cartoon” violence (think Looney Tunes), which is also a factor in games getting an E10+ rating. Examples include the Black Eyed Peas experience, which got a teen rating for suggestive lyrics; and Ultimate Card Games, which got an automatic T for simulated gambling. Even without those specifics, there’s the small problem of the ESRB being a voluntary body that’s more enforced by retail than anything a government has tried to do. All retail releases are rated by the ESRB, but that’s because that’s the de facto standard within the big-box industry, and it’s enforced by private companies like Walmart, Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, and others in terms of what they’ll sell on their service. This indicates to me that Mr. Fourkiller is not familiar with just how the ESRB works. If he’s using that as his only method of rating, it’s not legally enforceable (as determined by the Supreme Court in Brown v. EMA). Mr. Fourkiller doesn’t seem to know that neither Android nor Apple use the ESRB, despite the board setting up a ratings system specifically for mobile games; they’ve opted to stick with their own systems.
In short, should it somehow pass a Republican-dominated House, a Republican-dominated Senate, and get signed by the state’s Republican and heavily conservative governor, this bill would hurt business. People would avoid local brick-and-mortar stores to buy online from sites that don’t enforce the tax; it isn’t in full use by digital and/or mobile networks; and worse, it isn’t enforceable at any reasonable level beyond brick-and-mortar and is subject to legal scrutiny. This bill has little to do with increasing attention to anti-obesity and anti-bullying programmes; it’s a censorship bill intended to put a sin tax on video games, one meant to pander to special interests on a hot-button issue. The fact that it was put in as an “emergency”—stating that the health of the public is in danger—only highlights the farce.