States fight Hazelwood

Missouri, the home of the Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier case that curtailed student First Amendment rights, has taken the lead this spring in tackling state legislation that would give students free press protections and counteract that 1988 decision. Illinois, Nebraska and Michigan have also pursued the battle.The Freedom of Expression Committee in Missouri has recently gained “editorial support from the Kansas City Star,” said Bill Hankins, a teacher at Oak Park High School.In February, journalism instructors, students and legislators gathered at a hearing at the state capitol to testify in favor of House Bill 953. School administrators and the Missouri Association of School Boards argued against the bill.The bill was voted out of the House Committee by an 8-7 vote and is waiting in the House for a full vote before the session ends in May.Rep. Joan Bray (D-University City) is in her fourth year supporting the bill.In Illinois, Rep. Mary Lou Cowlishaw (R-Naperville) is strongly pushing for legislative action to give students free press rights.HB-3053 currently sits in the House and is not expected to get any attention during this session primarily because the legislature is dealing with budget matters, said James Tidwell, a professor at Eastern Illinois University.”Time is about to run out on this session, but hopefully it will be picked up in the summer during interim session or in the fall during veto session,” Tidwell said.Rep. Cowlishaw, who is also chair of the House Secondary Education Committee, has agreed to help find a senate sponsor.Bill 320 introduced by Sen. Chris Beutler (D-Lincoln) in Nebraska during 1995, formally died this legislative session. Jon Bender, an assistant professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln said the state high school press association will meet at the end of April to attract more teacher interest. He said no plans have been made to reintroduce another bill.In Michigan, legislation has reached a standstill. Cheryl Pell, executive director of the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association said Bill 5058 introduced in September is waiting for action.”We need more democratic support for anything to happen,” Pell said. The bill is currently in the House Education Committee.