Kentucky Senate Advances AV Measure Via Last-Minute Amendment

FRANKFORT, Ky.—Lawmakers in the Kentucky Senate have successfully amended a sweeping child protection measure to include age verification requirements for adult websites or web platforms with content considered "harmful to minors." 

House Bill (HB) 278, which was already advanced through the House of Representatives, originally prohibited school superintendents and administrators from hiring any person "convicted of an offense that would classify the person as a violent offender, a sex crime ... [or] who is required to register as a sex offender."

This portion of the bill also applies to some individuals charged with specific misdemeanors. 

However, Republican Sen. Gex Williams of Verona on Tuesday introduced Senate Floor Amendment 3 and successfully advanced the bill through its third reading Wednesday with the amendment attached.

The Williams amendment reaffirms the Kentucky General Assembly's position that pornography is a public health crisis, despite the fact that porn is not considered a public health crisis by practitioners

It also integrates copycat language, establishing age verification requirements targeting online platforms that host content reportedly "harmful to minors."

“The overall goal of this particular bill is to really get around to showing zero tolerance for child sexual assault, child sexual abuse, child pornography, and even human trafficking,” said proponent Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Winchester, on the Senate floor, via Kentucky Today online.

It provides for digital identification requirements, including government-issued ID cards and other "reasonable" measures like private and public transactional data.

Language in the bill is considerably extreme, notes critics. Mike Stabile, the director of public affairs for the Free Speech Coalition, posted to his followers on X that the floor amendments specify "harmful content to minors" as acts of masturbation, homosexuality and lesbianism.

He points this out in the context of comparing the amended House Bill 278 to an age verification measure adopted in Kansas that raised concerns that it would censor forms of First Amendment-protected speech that aren't even considered pornographic or obscene. AVN reported on this bill, citing the concerns from Democrats who say that age verification applied broadly would censor a variety of content on the internet, including material dealing with LGBTQ+ rights and sexual and reproductive health. 

The amendment also provides legal procedure and creates a new tort allowing individuals to sue adult platforms for not having active age verification in place.

The House is expected to consider the amended bill before it is advanced to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear's desk. It is possible Beshear will sign the bill as amended. 

The Kentucky legislature previously took up age verification measures in the forms of House Bill 241 and Senate Bill 276, which are identical and feature language similar to other age verification proposals throughout the United States. As the amended House Bill 278 measure advances back to the House, it appears that these bills will stall in the legislative calendar.

Adding age verification provisions to a bill that is ultimately unrelated is a tactic similar to what happened in North Carolina. 

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, signed House Bill (HB) 8—which contained a provision requiring adult websites to verify the ages of users logging in from North Carolina IP addresses—into law in October 2023. 

But there’s a catch: HB 8 originally had nothing to do with protecting minors from viewing age-restricted content on the internet.

North Carolina state Sen. Amy Galey, a Republican, managed to insert age verification language into a proposal that initially focused on high school computer science curriculum. Nothing in the original language mentioned pornographic content.

In December 2023, Pornhub's parent company Aylo blocked North Carolina IP addresses.