Student free-expression bill dies in Nebraska legislature

NEBRASKA –– A bill designed to encourage the state’sschool boards to adopt student freedom of expression codes forschool-sponsored publications died Tuesday when it failed to garnerthe 25 votes necessary for it to advance.The bill, which had been held over since last year’s legislativesession, was sponsored by Sen. Chris Beutler, D-Lincoln. It wouldhave allowed public school boards to set their own policies forwhat could appear in school-sponsored publications, such as studentnewspapers or yearbooks.School boards that did not adopt their own policies would havebeen required to follow the publications policy set by the bill.Under that policy, school administrators would be prohibited fromcensoring any material in school publications unless it was consideredobscene, libelous, harmful to minors or likely to incite violence,lawbreaking or disruption.Seventeen senators voted to advance the bill to the legislature’sselect file, with 23 against. If the bill had advanced, it wouldhave been debated again and then put to a final vote.John Bender, a professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincolnand a supporter of the bill, said the legislation was caught betweentwo extremes: those opposed to any limitation on a school administrator’sdiscretion as to what could be printed in a school-sponsored publicationand those concerned that the bill’s failure to force local schoolboards to adopt free-expression codes would cause them to enacteven more restrictive policies."Between those two extremes, there was not much ground forus to stand on," Bender said.

The text of LB 182 can be found on the NebraskaUnicameral Legislature’s Web site.