State anti-Hazelwood legislation faces success. defeats

\nIllinois’ legislation counteracting the 1988 Supreme Court\ndecision of Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which\nrestricted high school students’ free expression rights, died\nin April.

The bill, which passed the House on March 18 by a vote of 110-5,\nunderwent last minute changes that reduced the enthusiasm of many\nFirst Amendment advocates, said Randy Swikle, a member of the\nIllinois Journalism Education Association who supported the bill.

\nHouse Bill 39 died when it missed the deadline to pass through\nthe Senate Rules Committee in April.

The amendments that prompted concern to the bill included a provision\nallowing school principals to censor material that they, as opposed\nto a court, determined was disruptive, libelous, obscene, an invasion\nof privacy or “incites students as to cause imminent lawless\naction.” Another amendment deleted advertising content from\nthe law’s protections.

Swikle said the bill will not be reintroduced until year 2001\nand hopefully the amendments will be dropped. Although he did\nsay that the intentions behind H.B. 39 were still to protect the\nstudent press, he was fearful principals may have abused their\npower and censored what they imagined may have been libelous.

\n”Principals are not attorneys. They may not know what ‘libelous’\nreally means,” he said. “We [were] relying on both\nsides acting in good faith. That’s what it [came] down to.”

Although Swikle hopes that advertising content will be included\nin a new bill, he stresses editorials have been schools’ main\nconcern in recent years.

A bill protecting student press rights was vetoed in August 1997\nby then-Gov. Jim Edgar.

In Missouri, Bill Hankins, member of the JEA of Missouri,\nis recruiting supporters for their anti-Hazelwood bill, including\nValerie Halas and the four students from Blue Springs South High\nSchool who sued their school for firing Halas. (See JUDGE, page\n14.) Testimony was expected to start late this spring.

Nebraska’s bill had problems passing the House Education\nCommittee, according to bill supporter John Bender, who is a professor\nat the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Legislative Bill 182\nhad to be amended extensively due to concerns from the committee.

“The basic idea is still there and fairly strong, although\nnot as strong as before,” said Bender.

The changes now strongly encourage school boards to adopt publication\ncodes.

In Connecticut, students Ben Smilowitz and Stratos Pahis\nsay they are optimistic about their state’s student free speech\nlegislation, House Bill 5552, which is being sponsored by Democratic\nReps. Thomasina Clemons and Patrick J. Flaherty. The students\nare in the process of getting legislative support for the proposal.\n