College press freedom bill passes committee in Illinois

ILLINOIS — State senators could vote on a bill limiting public colleges from censoring student newspapers as early as next week after a senate committee unanimously approved the legislation Wednesday.

The bill, called the College Campus Press Act, designates all public college and community college publications in the state as public forums for student expression, effectively negating the 2005 Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Hosty v. Carter. According to that ruling, public college administrators in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin can impose prior review and restraint on student newspapers if the publication is not a designated public forum.

The bill was introduced by Illinois Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest) in early February and is now co-sponsored by two Republican senators. The eight members of the Senate Higher Education Committee who attended Wednesday’s committee meeting all voted for the bill, and now the legislation will go before the entire floor.

Illinois Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon), a co-sponsor of the bill, said he believes free society thrives on the free flow of information, and at the same time reporters have a duty to practice responsible journalism, lessons that should be taught to those working at student newspapers.

“I think that lesson is probably harder to learn when you have someone, for lack of a better term, looking over their shoulder,” said Righter, who with Garrett serves on the Senate Higher Education Committee. “The most important learning is done by doing.”

He said he does not expect opposition when the senate deliberates on the bill, dubbed SB0729. If approved by the senate, the bill will have to go through the Illinois House of Representatives before going Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) for approval.

By Brian Hudson, SPLC staff writer