Kansas Senate Bill 401


Kansas Senate Bill 401 as amended would lessen the knowledge requirement in Kansas’ law that bars the display to minors of material harmful to minors. Present law makes it a crime to knowingly display such material to a minor. The bill would lessen the standard to recklessly displaying such material to a minor. It would also broaden the law to apply to non-commercial establishments.


S.B. 401 died in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.


Lowering the knowledge requirement in the state’s “harmful to minors law will have a chilling effect on retailers and will inevitably lead to self-censorship. Although the courts have ruled that some limitation on the display of material “harmful to minors” is permissible, they have also ruled that these limitations may not unreasonably hinder the access of adults.

In Smith v. California, the Supreme Court ruled that laws restricting access to speech must include a knowledge requirement. Though the Court did not mandate a specific knowledge standard, it has referred to “knowingly” as an appropriate standard in numerous subsequent cases. Knowingly was adopted as the standard for knowledge in the model laws for barring the sale or display of materials that are obscene or harmful to minors and is the standard used in virtually every state that has such laws.

Even though they may not be a substantial difference between knowingly and recklessly, lessening of the knowledge requirement could make it easier to pursue prosecutions against book and video store owners and other retailers. This will cause an inevitable chilling effect that will lead to self-censorship by retailers.


  • On February 13, 2014, the bill was introduced [2] and referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
  • On February 18, 2014, the Senate Committee on Judiciary held a hearing on S.B. 401. The bill was amended [3] after the hearing to include language that would lower the knowledge requirement. The Senate Committee on Judiciary recommended the bill be passed.
  • Media Coalition submitted a memo in opposition [1] on February 26, 2014. The memo explained that lowering the knowledge requirement could have a chilling effect on retailers.
  • On February 27, 2014, the bill was withdrawn from the Senate calendar and referred to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.
  • The bill died in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

Last updated: Sep 3, 2015