Ohio expression bill heads to Senate

\nOHIO – The Ohio Senate Education Committee passed a bill\nJune 15 that would limit the restriction of expression at Ohio’s\npublic universities.

House Bill 43, sponsored by Rep. William B. Schuck, R-Columbus,\nwould make it illegal for a state university or college to “adopt\nor enforce any rule, regulation, or policy subjecting a student\nto disciplinary action solely on the basis of the student’s speech\nor other expression” if the speech or expression would be\nprotected when spoken off-campus.

“The goal is to protect expression of speech on campus\nconsistent with the First Amendment,” Schuck said.

The proposed legislation, which is expected to be heard in\nthe Senate this fall, would also allow students to sue colleges\nor universities in state court to prohibit the enforcement of\nany policy that limits constitutionally protected student speech.

Schuck said the idea for the bill was sparked by several instances\nof suppression of speech deemed politically incorrect on public\nuniversity campuses in Ohio and across the nation in the early\n’90s. This is the third time such a bill has been proposed in\nOhio, Schuck said, and the Senate has halted both prior attempts\nto pass the bill.

Gary Daniels, litigation coordinator for the American Civil\nLiberties Union of Ohio, said students at several Ohio universities\nwith restrictive speech codes could benefit from the passage of\nthe bill, but the bill could probably do more to break down the\nboundaries placed on the First Amendment at many schools.

“To a certain extent, [the law] is especially necessary\nin Ohio where there are colleges where students don’t enjoy the\nsame speech rights they would have if they were not students or\nnot on campus,” Daniels said. “When you’re talking\nabout the free speech aspect of the bill, it doesn’t seem to go\nfar enough.”

Meanwhile in Arkansas, college students seeking protection\nof their expression rights will have to make do with the First\nAmendment, at least for now.

Following a declaration of opposition from the Arkansas Press\nAssociation, House Bill 1031, which would have guaranteed public\ncollege students freedom of expression rights, was withdrawn from\nthe Arkansas House of Representatives in late March.

“It just flabbergasted me that the press association would\ncome on so strong against it,” said Rep. Jim Lendall,D-Mabelvale,\nthe bill’s sponsor.

The bill contained three main provisions. It would guarantee\nunlimited expression rights to students at public universities,\nprovided that such speech does not cause disruption within the\nschool; any student-planned assembly during school hours would\nhave to be held in a time and place approved in advance by the\nschool’s administration; and no student expression would be deemed\na reflection of school policy, and no school official could be\nheld accountable for students’ expression.

Although the association never formally testified against the\nbill, it did question the rationale behind the bill’s stipulations.

“The situation was, it contained the word ‘unlimited’\n[to describe the proposed expression rights of students],”\nsaid Milton Scott, lobbyist for the Arkansas Press Association.\n”That just didn’t fly with a lot of folks.”

Members of the association also consulted journalism professionals\nand educators in the state and found their concerns about the\nbill were not unfounded.

“University administrators have absolutely no right to\ntell a student when and where they can assemble with anyone else,”\nwrote Katherine Shurlds, a professor of journalism law at the\nUniversity of Arkansas at Fayettville, in an assessment of the\nbill, saying the bill, as it currently reads, may actually restrict\nstudent expression rights.

“They can make their time, place and manner restrictions\non school property, but they certainly can’t control outside activities,\nShurlds said. “I assume this was just carelessness on the\npart of the writing, but careless bills can become law.”

Lendall, however, said his fight is far from over, and he plans\nto introduce a similar bill in the Arkansas House, which will\nnext convene in January 2001.\n