Education Committee changes, approves Alabama student free speech law; sponsor may withdraw support. Oregon bill sponsor resigns

In Alabama, supporters of student-press rights decided to take another crack at passing a freedom-of-expression bill after losing their initial battle last year. And once again, lawmakers have altered the legislation to give school officials even more authority to censor student publications than some currently had, leaving the sponsor debating whether to withdraw the bill from further consideration.

House Bill 601, which was introduced in March and sponsored by Rep. Sue Schmitz, D-Toney, passed in the House Education Committee on April 25 after being postponed twice while the state struggled with school-funding issues.

The bill is designed to give public school students the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press in school-sponsored publications. In addition, the bill would give students the right to publish without prior review or prior restraint by administrators.

After listening to supporters and opponents speak about the bill, a committee member proposed an amendment that would put high school publications under the advisement of an editorial board consisting of the principal, two faculty members and a student editor.

Under the amendment, any material that receives two negative votes from the board would not be permitted to run in the paper.

Schmitz withdrew a similar free-expression bill last year after a legislator introduced an amendment that would have changed the wording of the bill to read that all publications would be subject to prior review instead of no publications subject to prior review.

In February, another bill aimed at giving students freedom-of-expression rights was introduced in Oregon, but might soon be defeated after Rep. Jo Ann Bowman, the sponsor of the bill, resigned to campaign for chairperson of the Multnomah County Commission.

SPLC SENSE: Once again, a student free press law has been amended to death. But progress in the area of lawmaking is often measured in odd ways. As sponsor Schmitz told an Alabama newspaper: “At least opponents are willing to come talk about this now.” They