Iowa Senate File 410


Summary

Iowa Senate File 410 would require public libraries to adopt a policy to limit access to electronic media, videos or video game resources by a minor under 17 years of age, if the the media, video or resource has been assigned a rating of R, NC-17 or a “comparable rating” by the Motion Picture Association of America, “the film advisory board,” or the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

Status

The bill died in the Senate Committee on State Government.

Analysis

Voluntary ratings exist to help parents determine what is appropriate for their children, but a government body violates the First Amendment if it enforces these rating systems. The government cannot delegate to a non-governmental third-party organization the responsibility of determining what movies and video games are permissible for minors. Also, a government cannot bar access to any speech beyond what the Constitution allows, and, even then, it must do so by allowing the speaker full due process protections. These protections are not available when the determination is delegated to a private non-governmental body.

Though minors do not enjoy the protection of the First Amendment to the same extent as adults, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that minors are entitled to a significant measure of First Amendment protection. Only in relatively narrow and well-defined circumstances may the government bar dissemination of protected speech to them. Movies and video games are given R, NC-17 or a comparable rating based on a wide range of criteria. A rating may be given for a single scene, image or word; for multiple or repeated types of content; or certain themes. Much of the content that would earn a film or video game such a rating is, nonetheless, still fully legal for minors under 17 years old under the First Amendment. The most common example is movies and video games with violent content. Many are rated R or M as inappropriate for minors under the age of 17. But over the past decade, numerous court decisions have created a significant body of case law that firmly establishes that speech with violent themes or images is fully protected by the First Amendment and may not be banned for minors.

Even with sexual speech, it is very unlikely that content rated R or a comparable rating is illegal for minors. Though the government can make some sexually frank material illegal for minors, it is a narrow range of material determined by a specific test known as the Miller/Ginsberg test. Merely containing sexual content sufficient to warrant an R or comparable rating is not enough to make a movie or video game illegal for minors.Criminalizing material based on an R or comparable rating would criminalize a far broader range of material than is allowed by the First Amendment under the Miller/Ginsberg test.

History

  • On March 3, 2011, the bill was introduced [2] and referred to the Senate Committee on State Government. As introduced, this library bill did not include the section on requiring a ratings policy.
  • On March 10, 2011, the bill was amended [3] to include the section on ratings. The Senate passed the bill as amended. The bill was sent to the House and passed on file.
  • On March 25, 2011, Media Coalition submitted a legal memo [1], explaining the constitutional problems with the ratings provision.
  • The House passed the bill on April 19, 2011. The bill was sent back to the Senate.
  • On February 6, 2012, the Senate re-referred the bill to the Senate Committee on State Government.
  • The legislature took no further action on the bill. The bill is dead.

Last updated: Sep 14, 2015