Kansas and Nebraska Still Busy Debating Age Verification Bills

LINCOLN, Neb./TOPEKA, Kan.—Age verification proposals targeting pornography in Nebraska and Kansas are still at the top of the docket at both state legislatures.

In Nebraska, far-right Sen. Dave Murman has reintroduced his controversial age verification proposal to the unicameral state legislature in Lincoln.

As AVN previously reported, several members of the Unicameral (the nickname for Nebraska's single-house legislative body) appeared skeptical of Murman's Legislative Bill (LB) 1092. LB 1092 was slated to die in the legislative calendar until he reintroduced the measure with heavily amended language. 

Legislative Bill 1092 now introduces digital identification language. "Digitized identification card means a data file that contains all of the data elements visible on the face and back of a government-issued operator's license or identification card and displays the current status of the license or card," reads the new bill language.

The bill highlights explicitly other "reasonable" age verification measures, including government-issued documentation and publicly available transactional data.

Critics of other age verification proposals argue that requiring adults to provide sensitive personally identifiable information risks privacy rights. The unicameral Judiciary Committee considered Murman's initial variation of the bill and fielded opposition to the legislation, with activists circulating this argument. 

“Internet safety should not come at the cost of personal rights,” said Jane Seu, legal and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, during the judiciary committee hearing at the time. According to the Nebraska Legislature, the amended form of Legislative Bill 1092 is currently circulated in the general file, or second reading, for consideration by the entire body of lawmakers. It truly is up in the air as to whether LB 1092 will pass or not, given the initial skepticism of the bill.

Meanwhile, down south from Lincoln in the Kansas capital of Topeka, the bicameral state legislature is poised to adopt age verification legislation that is considerably stricter than other states. The Kansas Reflector reports that Senate Bill (SB) 394, an age verification bill first introduced by Republican state Rep. Susan Humphries of Wichita, passed through the House on second reading. A third and final round of debate and voting is expected to take place in the coming days, notes the Reflector.

SB 394 establishes new positions within the government to investigate and enforce provisions of the age requirements in the bill. 

These requirements target adult entertainment websites and are presented as "reasonable" measures. Fines are attached to the bill, including new rights of civil action. SB 394 is similar to dozens of bills introduced in predominately Republican-held state legislatures and is considered to be a "copycat" of the first age-gating law implemented by Louisiana.

One element unique to the Kansas bill is that this age verification proposal requires user ID checks for websites with 25 percent of all content featured on the platform being "harmful to minors" and "pornographic." Several states with age verification on the books require at least 33 percent or more as the statutory threshold.

According to the Reflector, Rep. Humphries preached to members of the House about the "harms" of pornography. She said that there is ostensibly the potential for biological addiction for any individual who views pornography. This is pseudoscience. The American Psychiatric Association does not recognize pornography addiction as a real mental disorder and it is not featured in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Porn addiction is a common anti-porn activism trope.

Since the Kansas legislature is overwhelmingly controlled by a Republican supermajority, Humphries' remarks received little pushback and scrutiny. Luckily, Democrats in the House of Representatives expressed concerns during a recent floor debate. For example, Democratic Rep. Rui Xu of Westwood raised concerns that age verification could be used as a measure to restrict, potentially even censor, online speech that isn't even legally considered pornographic or age-restricted. That could include content dealing with LGBTQ+ rights, sexual and reproductive health information, and material that is ultimately protected by the First Amendment, like porn.

“With all these bills, think about the unintended consequences or intended consequences, I don’t know,” Rep. Xu said via coverage from the Reflector. “The definitions are much broader than we actually think.”

The Senate adopted a version of SB 394 earlier in the legislative session. Once both chambers agree on the final form of the bill, the Republican leadership will transmit Senate Bill 394 to the desk of Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a moderate Democrat elected in 2019. Whether Gov. Kelly will sign or veto the bill is hard to predict at this stage.