Kansas moves to join Texas and other states in requiring porn sites to verify people's ages

Kansas is poised to require internet pornography sites to verify that visitors are adults
Kansas House Judiciary Committee Chair Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, watches an electronic tally vote as the House approves a bill requiring pornography websites to verify the ages of their Kansas visitors, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The measure is likely to be come law and have Kansas joining at least eight other states in requiring age verification. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

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Kansas House Judiciary Committee Chair Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, watches an electronic tally vote as the House approves a bill requiring pornography websites to verify the ages of their Kansas visitors, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The measure is likely to be come law and have Kansas joining at least eight other states in requiring age verification. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is poised to require pornography websites to verify visitors are adults, a move that would follow Texas and a handful of other states despite concerns about privacy and how broadly the law could be applied.

The Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature passed the proposal Tuesday, sending it to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. The House voted for it 92-31 and the Senate approved it unanimously last month. Kelly hasn't announced her plans, but she typically signs bills with bipartisan backing, and supporters have enough votes to override a veto anyway.

At least eight states have enacted age-verification laws since 2022 — Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Utah and Virginia, and lawmakers have introduced proposals in more than 20 other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures and an analysis from The Associated Press of data from the Plural bill-tracking service.

Weeks ago, a federal appeals court upheld the Texas age-verification requirement as constitutional and a the Oklahoma House sent a similar measure to the state Senate.

Supporters argue that they're protecting children from widespread pornography online. Oklahoma Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, a sponsor of the legislation, said pornography is dramatically more available now than when “there might be a sixth-grade boy who would find a Playboy magazine in a ditch somewhere.”

“What is commonplace in our society is for a child to be alone with their digital device in their bedroom,” said Hasenbeck, a Republican representing a rural southwest Oklahoma district.

In Kansas, some critics questioned whether the measure would violate free speech and press rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment. Last year, that issue was raised in a federal lawsuit over the Texas law from the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult entertainment industry.

A three-judge panel of the conservative, New Orleans-based Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that Texas' age-verification requirement did not violate the First Amendment. The judges concluded that such a law can stand as long as a state has a rational basis for it and states have a legitimate interest in blocking minors' access to pornography.

The Kansas bill would make it a violation of state consumer protection laws for a website to fail to verify that a Kansas visitor is 18 if the website has material "harmful to minors." The attorney general then could go to court seeking a fine of up to $10,000 for each violation. Parents also could sue for damages of at least $50,000.

Under an existing Kansas criminal law, material is harmful to minors if it involves "nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement or sadomasochistic abuse."

But critics of the bill, mostly Democrats, argued that the law could be interpreted broadly enough that LGBTQ+ teenagers could not access information about sexual orientation or gender identity because the legal definition of sexual conduct includes acts of “homosexuality.” That means “being who we are” is defined as harmful to minors, said Rep. Brandon Woodard, who is gay and a Kansas City-area Democrat.

Woodard also said opponents don't understand "how technology works.” He said people could bypass an age-verification requirement by accessing pornography through the dark web or unregulated social media sites.

Other lawmakers questioned whether the state could prevent websites based outside Kansas from retaining people's personal information.

“The information used to verify a person’s age could fall into the hands of entities who could use it for fraudulent purposes,” said southeastern Kansas Rep. Ken Collins, one of two Republicans to vote against the bill.

Yet even critics acknowledged parents and other constituents have a strong interest in keeping minors from seeing pornography. Another southeastern Kansas Republican, Rep. Chuck Smith, chided the House because it didn't approve the bill unanimously, as the Senate did.

“Kids need to be protected," he said. "Everybody in here knows what pornography is — everybody.”

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Murphy reported from Oklahoma City.

Kansas state Reps. Jesse Borjon, right, R-Topeka, and Mark Schreiber, left, R-Emporia, confer before the House convenes its daily session, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Both lawmakers support a bill to require pornography websites to verify that Kansas visitors are at least 18. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

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Kansas state Rep. Nick Hoheisel, R-Wichita, watches an electronic tally board in the House as it approves a bill requiring pornography websites to verify the age of Kansas visitors, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The measure is going to Gov. Laura Kelly, and at least eight other states have such laws. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

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