Blagojevich’s quest to ban violent video games cost nearly $1M


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Posted Online: May 24, 2007, 12:00 am
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By Mitzie Stelte, mstelte@qconline.com

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich's efforts to ban certain video games has done significant violence to Illinois' budget.

The governor has spent nearly $1 million in taxpayer money to appeal a 2005 federal court ruling that a state law banning the sale of violent or sexual-explicit video games to minors was unconstitutional.

A House committee discovered the amount spent to pay lawyers this week.

The governor and other supporters of the law have argued that children were being harmed by exposure to games in which characters go on killing sprees or players view sexually explicit acts.

The governor raided funds throughout state government to pay for the litigation. Some of the areas money was taken from included the public health department, the state's welfare agency and even the economic development department.

"We had a strong suspicion that the governor was using funds appropriated by the General Assembly as his own personal piggy bank," Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, chairman of the State Government committee, said.

Those suspicions were confirmed when the governor's staff, testifying before the committee, admitted they just stuck state agencies that had available funds with the bills, he added.

"It's unfortunate that the state of Illinois spent taxpayer money defending this statute. This is precisely what we told them would happen," said David Vite, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, one of the groups that sued over the law.

Some lawmakers who voted for it called it a bad law, but said they had to go along for political reasons.

Sen. Mike Jacobs, D- East Moline, said that he voted for the bill because its goal was important, but if he knew it was going to cost the state a million dollars, he wouldn't have.

Charles Wheeler III, a journalism professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield and a longtime statehouse observer, said the governor's move was ill-advised.

"In most people's minds, the legislation was unconstitutional and it was clear it wasn't going anywhere," Mr. Wheeler said.

The measure would have barred stores from selling or renting violent or sexually explicit games to minors, and called for $1,000 fines for violators.

A federal court ruled the law violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, said the only good thing that came out of the measure was that it changed how the video game industry policed itself.

The governor's office did not return calls Thursday seeking comment.

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