WASHINGTON — Nineteen state representatives have signed on to co-sponsor Washington state Rep. Dave Upthegrove’s (D-Seattle) student free press bill, which would be the first to provide free press protection to both high school and college student journalists in one state law.
The bill, HB 1307, is currently assigned to the judiciary committee, which has scheduled a public hearing for Jan. 22. In preparation, Upthegrove said he plans to work with advocates in the state to arrange for testimony that will help the bill pass through the committee.
Upthegrove’s bill is an anti-censorship proposal that would ensure press freedoms for students statewide whether or not the media is financially supported by the school or “produced in conjunction with a class,” as noted in section two of the bill.
Arkansas, California, Colorado, Kansas, Iowa and Massachusetts currently have laws supporting high school press freedom and California has a law supporting the college press.
The Washington bill also says that there are no situations in which school administrators or faculty are allowed to exercise prior review of student-produced material.
“People don’t give up their First Amendment rights just because they’re young,” Upthegrove said. “They need to have pride of ownership.”
The bill not only protects students’ rights, but also against wrongful termination or discipline of journalism advisers.
“Journalism advisers and instructors tend to get a lot of pressure from their administration,” Upthegrove said. “We need to make sure they have the courage to stand strong as the ones who make sure the censorship does not happen.”
Upthegrove was first encouraged to look into the issue by Washington State University student Brian Schraum. Schraum, formerly of Green River Community College, had proposed an anti-censorship policy there following the Hosty v. Carter decision by the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2005. The Hosty v. Carter decision could provide public college administrators the authority to censor some student publications.
Upthegrove said he is optimistic for the future of the bill. He said he has secured the support of judiciary committee Chairwoman Patricia Lantz (D-Gig Harbor) and the backing of Republican Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna.
“Things are looking good, at least politically,” Schraum said. “The odds [of the bill passing] are pretty good. The fact that we have some bipartisan support is really good.”
Schraum has received phone calls from students who were “inspired” by his efforts.
“My hope was to see a change so students can actually do the stuff they have to do without the censorship that’s going on,” Schraum said. “If this passes, the students will be empowered to work and not be challenged by authority.”
The judiciary committee scheduled a hearing for the bill on Jan. 26 at 8 a.m.
By Erica Hudock, SPLC staff writer