Kansas Governor Refuses to Sign AV Bill, Will Let It Become Law

TOPEKA, Kan.—Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, announced that she will not sign age verification legislation that was recently passed through the state legislature.

Instead, she will let the bill, Senate Bill (SB) 394, automatically become law by letting it enter force on April 25. The bill levies age verification requirements on websites with users from Kansas IP addresses to check their identities through government identification or transactional data.

SB 394 empowers Attorney General Kris Kobach, a Republican who is supported by white nationalists and the Donald Trump political camp, to enforce the law.

“While well-meaning in its efforts to protect children from content the legislature considers ‘harmful to minors,’ this bill is vague in its application and may end up infringing on constitutional rights, which is an issue being litigated in other jurisdictions over similar bills," Gov. Kelly said in a statement.

"For that reason, I will allow this bill to become law without my signature," Kelly added. She could have vetoed the bill, but the Republican-held state legislature would have the necessary votes to overturn her veto.

SB 394 has been a point of controversy, receiving strong pushback from Democrats in the House of Representatives. One of the controversies is that the age verification proposal is overly broad and could restrict access to otherwise protected speech, including content like LGBTQ+ material on the internet and legal pornography.

A far-right socially conservative organization, Kansas Family Voice (KFV), condemned Gov. Kelly for not taking action on SB 394.

Brittany Jones, KFV's director of policy and engagement, said, "[S]he showed her cowardice by refusing to take action on the Protecting Kids Online Act. No matter your ideology, you should be able to support protecting children from pornography."

In the same statement, Jones referenced other legislation that Kelly vetoed that was intended to significantly drawback abortion and reproductive justice rights in Kansas. Kansas is one of the several states after the overturning of Roe v. Wade to allow voters to vote on and adopt abortion rights.

Civil liberties groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have expressed concerns over how SB 394 could be used to as a mechanism to enable state censorship.

“We understand the concern that this legislation, like many, could be weaponized to target LGBTQ+ content broadly,” said Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, in a statement to this journalist via a column published by The Pitch, an alt-news weekly in Kansas City. “This is yet another reminder of how unfortunate it is that extremist politicians in our state have so frequently targeted the LGBTQ+ community and misused the legislative process."

It is worth noting that the national ACLU just announced that it is representing adult industy trade organization the Free Speech Coalition and the parent companies of some of the largest adult platforms on the internet in a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The petition to the high court stems from ongoing litigation in the state of Texas, which adopted age verification legislation and so-called public health labeling laws.