There's trouble in video city, some members of the D.C. City Council are warning, and they are vowing to root it out before District children are corrupted.
The council's Judiciary Committee held hearings yesterday on proposals to fine school-age children $10 for playing video games during school hours; to fine or imprison businessmen who let kids play during school hours; to bar persons under 16 from video arcades after 10 p.m. on school nights, and to require that children under 12 be accompanied by a parent or guardian to get into the arcades.
The measures were introduced by H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) and Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6).
The police department would welcome a video arcade curfew and an increase in penalties for businesses that violate licensing regulations, Vernon Gill, D.C. police general counsel, told council members.
But the department has problems with fining juveniles, because this establishes a higher level of responsibility for them than under other laws, Gill said. Some provisions in the bills could put small video game operators out of business, he added.
Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3) and John Ray (D-At large) argued during yesterday's session that the real issue is enforcement of current truancy laws, which already forbid school children to loiter around businesses during school hours.
"I hate to see more legislation go on the books when you can't enforce what we have now," Shackleton told Gill.
Board of Education member Wanda Washburn (Ward 3) agreed that truancy laws are not being enforced, but she said more needs to be done and argued that the proposed bills do not go far enough to curb what she called a "serious problem" with the attraction of video games.
Washburn recommended laws prohibiting video arcades near schools and banning all use of video games during school hours in certain areas.
A spokesman for the Amusement Machine Operators of Washington D.C. Inc. said, however, that video games are being used as a scapegoat in the larger problem of lack of supervision of children.
"Children skipped school long before Pac-Man, and we assume that they will continue to skip school after today's children are grown . . . ," said the group's representative, Stuart J. Long, in a prepared statement. "Shall we permit them to congregate in a video arcade . . . or should we put them out on the street corner and into the alleys?"
After the hearing, Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8), Judiciary Committee chairman, said she was surprised by the amount of opposition and legal questions raised on the bills, and did not schedule action on the measures.
But Rolark said legislation specifically aimed at video games could be justified "because of the peculiar lure the games have for children. They are just like a magnet."
Another measure, supported by Rolark and the executive branch, would outlaw the sale or use of "obscene, indecent or filthy" video games by businesses that allow persons under 18 on the premises.