Missouri Lawmaker Wants Violent Video Games Taxed

State Rep. Diane Franklin Wants 1 Percent Tax to Fund Mental Health Initiatives

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A rural Missouri lawmaker wants her state to tax certain video games to help curb gun violence. The Associated Press reports state Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, believes a 1 percent sales tax on video games rated teen, mature and adults only would help finance mental health programs aimed at reducing gun violence such as the recent mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

What does the legislation propose?

House Bill 157 proposes to create "an excise tax based on the gross receipts or gross proceeds of each sale" of video games rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). The tax also involves the "storage, use or other consumption" of violent video games in Missouri including "tangible personal property." This means the tax could extend to memorabilia derived from the games such as toys, clothing and video game accessories.

How does the legislation hope to enhance public safety?

The law hopes to procure "new and additional funding for treatment of mental health conditions associated with exposure to violent video games... ." The revenue from the tax cannot be used to replace existing revenue already in place. Franklin deems the legislation "necessary for the immediate preservation of the public health, welfare, peace and safety." Therefore, if the legislation passes it will go into effect immediately. There is no mention in the legislation as to how much revenue should be generated, nor does it say whether the sales tax is just on new merchandise as opposed to used games on the secondary market.

Have similar laws been considered before?

A similar proposal was struck down in mid-February in Oklahoma. Democrat William Fourkiller crafted legislation in 2012 that is very similar to Franklin's idea in Missouri. A subcommittee struck down the bill by a 6-5 margin. Fourkiller, in defending the law , said it wasn't a "magic bullet" but that Oklahoma had "to start somewhere" to curb childhood violence. Oklahoma also would have taxed ESRB teen, mature and adults only games at a rate of 1 percent.

Does the Missouri law have a chance to pass?

CNN notes a federal appeals court made a ruling in 2003 that video games are free speech protected by the First Amendment. Ironically, it was a federal case stemming from St. Louis County, Mo., that created the precedent for video games as free speech. Senior U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh's decision was reversed by an appellate panel. The ruling came shortly after the state of Washington banned the sale of certain video games to children under the age of 17. Gamasutra reveals New Mexico also tried, and failed, to pass a similar law in 2008.

What are Franklin's credentials as they relate to the proposed bill?

Franklin was first elected in 2010 from Camdenton. She is a mother of two sons and served on Camdenton School Board from 1993 to 1999. She sits on the House Appropriations-Education committee. Franklin is a third-generation small business owner and comes from a farming family. Missouri Republicans currently have a veto-proof supermajority in the General Assembly. Camdenton is a small city of around 3,700 people near Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri.

William Browning is a research librarian specializing in U.S. politics.

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