Illinois anti-Hazelwood legislation passes House

ILLINOIS — An Illinois bill that would counteract the 1988 Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier moved one step closer to becoming a law last week.

House Bill 39 successfully passed through the Illinois House on March 18 by a vote of 110-5 one month after the bill passed the House Education Committee. The new legislation, if signed into law, would protect high school journalists’ free speech rights.

A similar bill was vetoed in August 1997 by then Gov. Jim Edgar, but James Tidwell, executive director of the Illinois Journalism Education Association, is optimistic about H. B. 39’s chances, because Gov. George H. Ryan, elected last fall, has promised to support the bill once it reaches his hands.

Unfortunately for the bill’s proponents, last-minute changes to the legislation could significantly reduce its effectiveness. Most troubling is the addition of a provision that allows school principals — and not a court — to determine what is disruptive, libelous, obscene, an invasion of privacy or “incites students as to cause imminent lawless action.” In addition, House lawmakers deleted a provision in the bill that provided protection for advertising.

The bill now has to be considered by the state Senate.