Proposed legislation in California designed to protect college journalists

CALIFORNIA –Two student press-friendly bills are making their way through the CaliforniaState Assembly — one that would prohibit the theft of free publicationsand another that is designed to protect the First Amendment rights of collegejournalists.

Assemblyman George Plescia, R-San Diego, authored thetheft bill and Assemblyman Joe Nation, D-San Rafael, authored the college pressrights bill. The California Newspaper Publishers Association sponsored bothbills.

The bill extending protection to college journalists is inresponse to the Hosty v. Carter decision out of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said Jim Ewert, legalcounsel for the CNPA. The appeals court decision held that the Supreme Court’s1988 Hazelwood decision limiting highschool student free expression rights could extend to college and universitycampuses. The U.S. Supreme Court decided last month not to hear theHosty case, letting stand the June 2005decision out of the 7th Circuit.

Ten days after the 7th Circuitdecision, the general counsel for the California State University system sent amemo to university presidents saying theHosty decision could impactCalifornia.

“[T]he case appears to signal that CSU campuses may havemore latitude than previously believed to censor the content of subsidizedstudent newspapers, provided that there is an established practice ofregularized content review and approval for pedagogical purposes,” wrote CSUgeneral counsel Christine Helwick at that time.

Although the 7thCircuit’s ruling is onlyapplicable in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, Ewert said the memo raised someconcerns amongst student press advocates in the GoldenState.

“Ordinarily we wouldn’t be that concerned about a7th Circuit decision,” Ewert said. “[The memo] just sent ripplesthroughout the student press. We thought it might be a good idea to ask thelegislature to extend the speech protection that exists in the law now tostudent publications.”

And by explicitly including the studentpress in California’s Leonard law, the proposed legislation does justthat, Ewert said.

The Leonard Law protects student speech by makingit illegal to enforce any rule on California’s college campuses that wouldpunish a student for speech that would be protected under the First Amendment orCalifornia’s Constitution off school grounds. The legislative history ofthe law states: “It is the intent of the Legislature that a student shall havethe same right to exercise his or her right to free speech on campus as he orshe enjoys when off campus.”

Ewert said the proposed bill would makeit clear that the Leonard Law protecting freedom of expression onCalifornia’s campuses clearly extends to the student press.

Thebill prohibiting the theft of newspapers would make it a misdemeanor to takemore than five copies of a free newspaper with the intent to recycle them formoney, sell or barter them, deprive others of the ability to read thepublication or harm a business competitor, according to CNPA’s LegislativeBulletin, an online publication.

“It is not just the newspaperitself that is being taken, it’s the advertising that is not being seen bythe eyes that are intended to see them,” Ewert said. “[Publications]are stolen simply based on the content of the story or an editorial piece. Thepublic, as well as the advertisers, are deprived.”

Because mosthigh school and college newspapers are free, the bill should give studenteditors in the state more ammunition when their publications are stolen, studentpress advocates have said.

Both bills, which were introduced Feb. 24,have to be in print for 30 days before they are put before committees, Ewertsaid. The bills likely will go before the committees at the end of March orearly April.

Staff writer Evan Mayor contributed to this report.