- Senator Josh Hawley has drafted a bill that would ban the sale of loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in games that target or are played by children.
- Two of his Democratic colleagues have signed on in support of the legislation, arguing that the features prey on minors and essentially serve as casinos for kids.
- Meanwhile, industry leaders argue that the features do not constitute gambling and say parents already have the ability to prohibit in-game purchases with parental controls.
Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) formally introduced a bill on Thursday that would ban the sale of loot boxes to children.
Hawley’s bill is called “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act,” and if approved it will restrict video game companies from including loot boxes or pay-to-win microtransaction in games that target children or are “played by minors.”
The bill calls for financial penalties should a gaming company violate these rules. “Only the addiction economy could produce a business model that relies on placing a casino in the hands of every child in America with the goal of getting them desperately hooked,” Hawley said of the features.
He has teamed up with two Democratic lawmakers, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) on this legislation, saying “I’m proud to introduce this landmark, bipartisan legislation to end these exploitative practices.”
“Today’s digital entertainment ecosystem is an online gauntlet for children,” Senator Markey said. ”Inherently manipulative game features that take advantage of kids and turn play time into pay time should be out of bounds.”
“I’m proud to sponsor this bipartisan legislation to protect kids from predatory gaming apps and hold bad actors accountable for their reprehensible practices,” Senator Blumenthal said.
“Congress must send a clear warning to app developers and tech companies: Children are not cash cows to exploit for profit.”
Loot Boxes and Microtransactions
The bill will specifically focus on loot boxes and pay-to-win mechanics. Loot boxes are often incorporated in both free and paid games. They offer players randomized rewards for spending money. Meanwhile, play-to-win microtransactions typically take two forms.
In some instances, game designers create games with difficult paths to entice players into spending money on upgrades to progress further in the game. Many times, these games are free to download, which initially draws players in and allows them to become invested in the game before it becomes more challenging.
In other cases, game engineers create multiplayer games that offer players the chance to purchase upgrades or competitive advantages over other players.
Are Industry Leaders Concerned?
Calls for regulation of loot boxes and pay-to-win mechanics have increased over the last several years. Especially as loot boxes have become increasingly popular features in mobile games and larger games produced by companies like Blizzard and Electronic Arts.
Last fall, the Federal Trade Commission said it would investigate loot boxes following a letter from Senator Maggie Hassan. That letter was written after a string of games in 2017 featured heavy usage of microtransactions. This was seen in games like Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Star Wars Battlefront II.
While some companies have pulled back on the practice, popular games like Overwatch, FIFA, and Apex Legends continue to make huge profits off of randomized microtransactions. However, some countries have taken a stand against these features. Earlier this week, Nintendo was forced removed two games in Belgium for violating the country’s loot box regulations that treat loot boxes as an illegal form of gambling.
In a recent interview with Kotaku, Hawley admitted he is not a gamer, but said that the idea for the bill came from “being a parent of two little boys,” and from “talking to a lot of parents” who were suddenly seeing several charges on their cards after purchasing games for their kids.
Kotaku’s Jason Schreier asked if Hawley had spoken to industry leaders about the bill. Here’s how that conversation went:
- Schreier: Have you been in conversations with the ESA, the video games lobbyist group, or any other video game companies about how this might impact them?
- Hawley: Yes, yes we have.
- Schreier: Can you describe the nature of those conversations?
- Senior policy advisor Jacob Reses: This is Jacob here. I think it’s fair to say the industry has concerns about this… We’ve been trying to be very transparent with them, but there may be some difference of opinion.
- Hawley: Jacob’s being very diplomatic.
- Schreier: Yes, any elaboration you can make here? I ask because I pay a lot of attention to these financial calls that these companies have, and EA for example is very reliant on the loot box income that comes in from FIFA games. A lot of these companies are very reliant on this stuff.“
- Hawley: And FIFA would indeed be covered by this legislation, to be clear. They’ve certainly expressed their, shall we say, concern over this legislation. But I think that’s probably a good indication that we’re getting somewhere.
The bill will likely face pushback from industry leaders who have stood by their use of microtransactions. Earlier this month after Hawley announced his plans for the bill, The Entertainment Software Association, the video game industry lobbyist group, sent over a statement to Kotaku saying:
“Numerous countries, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, determined that loot boxes do not constitute gambling. We look forward to sharing with the senator the tools and information the industry already provides that keeps the control of in-game spending in parents’ hands. Parents already have the ability to limit or prohibit in-game purchases with easy to use parental controls.”
Amazon Backs GOP Bill to Legalize Marijuana in Effort to Ramp Up Lobbying
The proposal is the first Republican-sponsored marijuana bill Amazon has backed since the company first began lobbying for legalization last summer.
Amazon Endorses States Reform Act
Amazon announced Tuesday that it is endorsing a Republican-backed proposal to legalize marijuana.
The move comes as the e-commerce giant has ramped up its efforts to legalize cannabis on the federal level since it came out in support of the idea last summer. Amazon argues that the move would remove hiring barriers — which disproportionately impact people of color — and, in turn, could increase the company’s application pool and boost employee retention.
The company has previously backed similar proposals by forward by Democrats, but Tuesday’s announcement marks the first time Amazon has put its support behind a Republican-sponsored bill aimed at addressing the issue.
The legislation, called the States Reform Act, was authored by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.). Among other measures, it would remove cannabis as a Schedule I substance, allow states to create their own laws, impose an excise tax, and regulate the drug in a similar fashion to alcohol.
While Mace’s bill is fundamentally very similar to others put forth by Democrats, by proposing it herself, the Republican hopes to rally other members of her party around the idea that legalization is pro-business, pro-state’s rights, and anti-big government.
The measure has already received support from the highly influential conservative group, American’s for Prosperity, which is funded by the Koch brothers.
Mace and Amazon have painted the company’s endorsement as a game-changer for garnering more support — both from other large corporations and politicians on either side of the aisle. Mace specifically told reporters she believes Amazon’s decision will push other companies to do the same. If more major corporations like Amazon back the effort, other Republicans may be more persuaded to jump on board.
That sentiment was echoed by Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, who said in an interview with The Washington Post that the company was “particularly excited by Congresswoman Mace’s bill” because “it shows that there’s bipartisan support for this issue.”
Huseman also emphasized that, as part of its decision to back her bill, Amazon will use its powerful influence in Washington to try and drum up bipartisan support.
“We are talking with members of both parties, including Republicans, about why we think this is the right thing to do, especially from the standpoint of a major employer and what this means for our business and our employees and broadening the employee base,” he continued.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Forbes) (Marijuana Moment)
CDC Data Shows Booster Shots Provide Effective Protection Against Omicron
Public health experts have encouraged Americans to get boosted to protect themselves against the omicron variant, but less than 40% of fully vaccinated people who are eligible for their third shot have received it.
A First Glimpse of Official Data on Boosters and Omicron
COVID-19 booster shots are effective at preventing Americans from contracting omicron and protecting those who do become infected from severe illness, according to three reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Friday.
The reports mark the first real-world data regarding the highly infectious variant and how it has impacted the U.S.
One of the CDC reports, which studied data from 25 state and local health departments, found that there were 149 cases per 100,000 people among those had been boosted on average each week.
In comparison, the figure was 255 cases per 100,000 people in Americans who had only received two shots.
Another study that looked at nearly 88,000 hospitalizations in 10 states found that the third doses were 90% effective at preventing hospitalization.
By contrast, those who received just two shots were only 57% protected against hospitalization by the time they were eligible for a booster six months after their second dose.
Additionally, the same report also found that the boosters were 82% effective at preventing visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers, a marked increase from the 38% efficacy for those who were six months out from their two-shot regime and had not yet received a third.
Low Booster Shot Vaccination Rates
Public health officials hope that the new data will urge more Americans to get their booster shots.
Since the emergence of omicron, experts and leading political figures have renewed their efforts to encourage people to get their third shots, arguing they are the best form of protection.
The CDC currently recommends that everyone 12 and older get a booster shot five months after their second shot of Pfizer and Moderna or two months after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Still, in the U.S., less than 40% of fully vaccinated individuals eligible for a third shot have gotten one.
While COVID cases in the country have begun to drop over the past several days from their peak of over 800,000 average daily infections, the figures are still nearly triple those seen in the largest previous surges.
Hospitalizations have also slowly begun to level out over the last week in places that were hit first, such as New York City and Boston, but medical resources still remain strained in many parts of the country that experienced later surges and have not yet seen cases slow.
Some experts predict that the U.S. will see a sharp decline in omicron cases, as experienced in South Africa and Britain. Still, they urge American’s to get boosted to ensure their continued protection from the variant, as well as other strains that will emerge.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (The New York Times)
California Bill Would Allow Kids 12 and Up to Get Vaccinated Without Parental Consent
Nearly one million California teens and preteens between the ages of 12 and 17 are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
State Senator Proposes Legislation
Legislation proposed in California on Thursday would allow children age 12 and up to get vaccinated without parental consent.
State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Bill 866 in the hope it could boost vaccination rates among teenagers. According to Wiener, nearly one million kids aged 12- to 17-years old remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 in the state of California.
“Unvaccinated teens are at risk, put others at risk & make schools less safe,” Wiener tweeted. “They often can’t work, participate in sports, or go to friends’ homes.”
“Many want to get vaccinated but parents won’t let them or aren’t making the time to take them. Teens shouldn’t have to rely on parents’ views & availability to protect themselves from a deadly virus.”
Currently, teens in California can receive vaccines for human papillomavirus and hepatitis B without parental consent. They can also make other reproductive or mental healthcare choices without a guardian signing off. Wiener argues that their medical autonomy should expand to all vaccines, especially during a pandemic that has already killed roughly 78,000 Californians.
Vaccine Consent Across the U.S.
“Teens shouldn’t have to plot, scheme or fight with their parents to get a vaccine,” he said. “They should simply be able to walk in & get vaccinated like anyone else.”
Bill 866 would allow any kids ages 12 and up to receive any vaccine approved or granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, Pfizer’s COVID vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA for those 16 and older. It has received emergency authorization for ages five through 15.
Across the United States, vaccine consent ages vary. While the vast majority of states require parental approval for minors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, kids as young as 11 can get the jab on their own in Washington, D.C. In Alabama, kids can receive it without parental consent at 14, in Oregon at 15, and in Rhode Island and South Carolina at 16. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, providers can waive consent in certain cases in Arkansas, Idaho, Washington, and Tennesee.
In October, California became the first state to announce plans to require that students receive the COVID-19 vaccine to attend class. The mandate has yet to take effect, but under the guidelines, students will be “required to be vaccinated for in person learning starting the term following FDA full approval of the vaccine for their grade span.”
In other words, once the FDA gives a vaccine full approval for those aged 12 and up, it will be required the following session for kids in grades 7-12. Once it does so for kids as young as five, the same process will happen for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. There will also be room for exemptions from the mandate.
The Fight to Vaccinate California
This week, a group of California state legislators formed a Vaccine Work Group in order to boost public health policies in the state. Wiener is among the several members who are “examining data, hearing from experts, and engaging stakeholders to determine the best approaches to promote vaccines that have been proven to reduce serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.”
“Vaccines protect not only individuals but also whole communities when almost everyone is vaccinated at schools, workplaces and businesses, and safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines have already prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) said in a press release. “Public safety is a paramount duty of government, and I am proud to join a talented group of legislators in the pro-science Vaccine Work Group who want to end this disastrous pandemic and protect Californians from death and disability by preventable diseases.”
While vaccine policies have been a divisive subject nationwide, including in California, state politicians and leaders are hopeful public health initiatives will prevail.
“If we allow disinformation to drive our state policy making we will not only see more Americans needlessly suffer and die, but we will sacrifice the long term stability of our society having effectively abandoned the idea that we all must work together to protect each other in times of crisis.” Catherine Flores Martin, the Executive Director of the California Immunization Coalition, added.