Anti-Hazelwood legislation continues to face uphill battle

Arlington, VA — Three bills designed to protect thehigh school student press from censorship died this year in Connecticut,Missouri and Illinois. A similar bill introduced in Nebraska isbeing held over until next year.

In Connecticut, legislationintended to protect the freedom of the high school student pressdied after supporters rejected a watered-down version of the bill.The House never voted on the revised version before it adjournedin June.

The original legislation, sponsored by Reps. Thomasina Clemons,D-Vernon, and Patrick J. Flaherty, D-Coventry, would have prohibitedcensorship of the student press in Connecticut public schoolsexcept to assure that expression is not libelous, slanderous orin violation of state law.

The legislation was rewritten, however, to encourage – insteadof require – each board of education to adopt its own publicationcode promoting free speech.

Stratos Pahis, a Connecticut high school student who helped authorthe original legislation, said he did not support the revisedversion of the bill because it failed to require school boardsto implement free press codes.

“We would basically have a law that said schools could dowhatever they want, and that’s worse than no law at all,”Pahis said.

But he said he plans to ask Clemons to reintroduce the legislationnext fall.

“We’ve gotten a lot of support,” Pahis said, addingthat he expects to garner an even larger base of support nextyear.

Legislation to adopt a statewide freedom of expression act inNebraska is being held over until next year.

The original bill, introduced by Sen. Chris Beutler, D-Lincoln,would have required school boards in the state to implement freedomof expression codes for student publications. But the legislature’seducation committee added an amendment to the bill that was similarto the revised version of Connecticut’s student press bill, encouraging,rather than requiring, school boards to adopt freedom of expressioncodes.

Unlike the proponents of the Connecticut bill, however, backersof the Nebraskan legislation still supported the revised versionof their bill.

“It doesn’t do what we wanted it to do, but it’s better thanwhat we have right now,” said supporter Kathy Stockham, presidentof the Nebraska High School Press Association.

Stockham said she plans to support the amended legislation whenit is reintroduced next year, adding that she is optimistic thatthe legislature will pass the bill.

“We have strong support for it on the committee,” Stockhamsaid. “There are some strong voices for it.”

In Missouri, a freedomof expression bill died in May after the House judiciarycommittee chair refused to permit a hearing on it.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Joan Bray, D-University City, wouldhave limited the liability of school administrators for studentexpression to situations in which they interfered with the expressionby censoring or altering an article, for example.

But the legislation was never voted on.

“We didn’t even get a hearing for House Bill 245,” saidsupporter Bill Hankins, a journalism adviser at Oak Park HighSchool in Kansas City. “We were totally shut out. The chairwouldn’t even put it on the agenda to be heard. It just died.”

Hankins, who is also a member of the Missouri Journalism EducationAssociation, said it is unlikely the legislation will be reintroducednext year.

“We just don’t feel like the Missouri legislature is evergoing to come around,” Hankins said. “We’ve been fightingthis battle for eight years.”

Instead, Hankins said supporters of free student expression areworking to arrange a meeting with journalism advisers and thestate’s commissioner of education to possibly establish a publicationcode protecting student speech through the state department ofeducation.

A billin Illinois to protect student expression died in Aprilafter amendments to it dampened the enthusiasm of many of itssupporters.

Although the original version of the bill passed the House bya vote of 110-5, last-minute changes to it gave principals morecensorship power and deleted advertising content from the law’sprotections.

Supporters said the bill will not be reintroduced until 2001.

After a bill designed to protect student expression died lastfall, Michigan Rep. Lynne Martinez, D-Lansing, said she wouldreintroduce the legislation when the House convened in January.Martinez never introduced the bill, however, because she saidshe sponsored too many other bills and House regulations preventedher from introducing another. But Martinez said she will reintroducethe bill in the fall.