Illinois governor vetoes anti-Hazelwood legislation

ILLINOIS — Despite little opposition from the state legislature, Gov. Jim Edgar (R) vetoed a bill on Aug. 10 that would have guaranteed greater rights for high school student journalists in the state.

Rep. Mary Lou Cowlishaw (R-Naperville) introduced House Bill 154, the Illinois Student Publications Act, in January, and the House approved it on April 14 by an overwhelming 109-4 vote. On May 15 the bill, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Parker (R-Northfield) passed the Senate unanimously, 57-0.

Illinois legislators have been trying for eight years to pass student free expression legislation. The measure died in committee in 1989 and was blocked by the Senate’s Republican majority in 1993 before Cowlishaw reintroduced it this year.

Edgar wrote in his veto message that he believed “the legislation creates a situation in which the entity ultimately responsible for the newspaper — the school board — cannot exercise full control over the paper’s content.”

Mary Dixon of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois said that with Edgar expressing the need for “total control,” little could have been done to save the bill.

Illinois law requires a three-fifths vote of both the House and the Senate to override. Cowlishaw said late October is the deadline to decide whether to file a motion to override a governor’s veto. With continuing support from Cowlishaw, and the recent announcement of Edgar’s planned retirement in January 1998, an override attempt may be the next move.

Cowlishaw said whether the answer is with a veto override or with introduction of a new bill, she is not ready to give up.

“We shouldn’t just say, ‘We’re defeated,’ and walk away,” she said.

The bill provided that “public high school students have freedom of expression through speech and press and that, subject to certain limitations, expressions contained in a high school newspaper shall not be subject to prior restraint, and would authorize proceedings for injunctive or declaratory relief to secure such rights.” The amendment to the School Code would have created stronger free press protections than Illinois students have had since the Supreme Court’s 1988 Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier decision.

Lobbyists, particularly from the Illinois Journalism Education Association, pressed hard for the governor to sign the bill during the summer.

IJEA Executive Secretary James Tidwell said the veto was “definitely discouraging.”

“It’s really bizarre — passing as overwhelmingly as it did [in the House and Senate], and now this happening,” Tidwell said.