Reel Blog

Utah governor vetoes "Truth in Advertising" bill

Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has vetoed H.B. 353, an amendment to Utah’s Truth in Advertising law, that would declare that a deceptive trade practice occurs if a business publicly states that it will not sell a product labeled with an age restriction or advisory to anyone under the age specified and then in fact makes a sale to someone under that age.

Publicly touted by perennial (and disbarred) anti-video game gadfly Jack Thompson, the amendment would allow patrons to sue retailers and movie theater operators after the third offence. The obvious problem with the bill is that the most likely solution open to retailers and movie theaters is to stop posting notices that the voluntary industry rating system will be enforced rather than risk a lawsuit over the most inadvertant failure to enforce them.

NATO, along with the Entertainment Merchant’s Association and the MPAA lobbied vigorously for the governor’s veto. In NATO’s letter to the governor, NATO’s Vice President, General Counsel & Director of Government Affairs Kendrick Macdowell noted

H.B. 353 destroys that private partnership and substitutes the specter of government-imposed liability for mistakes or intermittent errors by theater employees-all based upon exhibitors promoting ratings enforcement. H.B. 353 effectively takes what everyone agrees is good and constructive conduct by business and makes it the basis for vexatious lawsuits and expensive liability. What rational Utah exhibitor would fail to hesitate before ever again promoting ratings enforcement and inviting rounds of lawsuits? While we understand and respect the impulse of Utah lawmakers to promote age-appropriate restrictions on access to entertainment products, H.B. 353 would perversely have the opposite effect-encouraging silence on ratings enforcement.

Utah Association of Theatre Owners president Dick Cornell testified to that likely response of Utah’s theater owners before the legislature.

Huntsman’s veto letter used much the same language in rejecting the amendment:

The industries most affected by this new requirement indicated that rather than risk being held liable under this bill, they would likely choose to no longer issue age appropriate labels on goods and services. Therefore, the unintended consequences of the bill would be that parents and children would have no labels to guide them in determining the age appropriateness of the goods or service, thereby increasing children’s potential exposure to something they or their parents would have otherwise determined was inappropriate under the voluntary labeling system now being recognized and embraced by a significant majority of vendors.

More coverage here.