California legislation protecting student newspapers moves forward

Two bills that would help protectstudent newspapers in California from censorship and theft are making their waythrough the California State Legislature.

AB 2581, a bill designed toprotect the First Amendment rights of college journalists, passed in a 76-0 votein the California State Assembly May 11. The bill will now be sent to theCalifornia State Senate for consideration.

Assemblymen Leeland Yee,D-San Francisco, and Joe Nation, D-Marin, introduced the college censorshipbill.

Jim Ewert, legal counsel for the California NewspaperPublishers Association, a supporter of the bill, said there has been no formalopposition to the bill so far.

AB 2612, a bill that would make it amisdemeanor to take more than 25 copies of a free newspaper, passed an Assemblyvote earlier this month. Ewert said the bill is now awaiting assignment to acommittee in the California State Senate.

The bill would make it amisdemeanor to take more than 25 copies of a free newspaper with the intent torecycle them for money, sell or barter them, deprive others of the ability toread the publication or harm a business competitor.

AssemblymanGeorge Plescia, R-San Diego, authored the theft bill.

The billextending protection to college journalists is in response to the Hosty v.Carter decision out of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Ewert said. Theappeals court decision held that the Supreme Court’s 1988 Hazelwood decisionlimiting high school student free expression rights could extend to college anduniversity campuses in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Ten daysafter the 7th Circuit decision, the general counsel for the California StateUniversity system sent a memo to university presidents saying the Hosty decisioncould impact California.

“[T]he case appears to signal that CSUcampuses may have more latitude than previously believed to censor the contentof subsidized student newspapers, provided that there is an established practiceof regularized content review and approval for pedagogical purposes,” wrote CSUgeneral counsel Christine Helwick at that time.

Although the 7thCircuit’s ruling is only applicable in the three Midwestern states coveredby the appeals court, Ewert said the memo raised some concerns amongst studentpress advocates in the Golden State.

“Ordinarily wewouldn’t be that concerned about a 7th Circuit decision,” Ewertsaid. “[The memo] just sent ripples throughout the student press. Wethought it might be a good idea to ask the legislature to extend the speechprotection that exists in the law now to studentpublications.”

SPLCView: Mega-kudos to the California Newspaper Publishers Association fortheir sponsorship of these two very important pieces of legislation. Inparticular, CNPA’s recognition of the threat posed by the Hosty decision tocollege student media and their swift — and so far, unopposed —response shows a genuine commitment to student media that we hope will bereplicated by publishers and press associations nationwide as collegejournalists confront the new and evolving threat to their pressfreedom.