Pioneering Washington state press freedom bill dies in state Senate

WASHINGTON A student press freedom bill died in the Washington state Senate April 13 after not being brought to the floor for a Senate vote.

HB 1307, introduced by Rep. Dave Upthegrove (D-Des Moines), was passed to the state Senate Rules Committee in late March where it was assigned to the floor calendar. It is the committee’s primary responsibility to determine which bills will advance to the Senate floor. The bill, however, was never brought up for a vote by the Senate. April 13 was the last day for the Senate to consider bills passed by the House. The legislative session ends April 22.

The idea for the bill first came from Brian Schraum, a Washington State University student. Schraum and Upthegrove drafted the bill to give full authority to both public high school and college journalists under the same statute.

Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and Massachusetts have similar laws protecting public high school journalists. California also has a law supporting the college press.

The bill was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 30, but with an amendment that cut the portion of the bill that would protect high school students.

Upthegrove said he is unsure at this point why the bill was not brought up for a vote, particularly because the controversial high school portion of the bill had been removed. Lack of overall support, lack of support from the majority leader, lack of time and legislative trade-off arrangements are all possible factors that could have influenced the process, according to Upthegrove.

“It happens to most pieces of legislation,” Upthegrove said. “Most bills do not pass.” As of April 17, only 321 of the 2,568 bills that were introduced in both houses of the legislature were passed by the Senate.

Sen. Adam Kline (D-Seattle), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that although he supported the bill, it is common for both “good and bad bills” to die, considering the high number of bills introduced.

“The decision to let it die was made by Senate leadership, in response to the lack of strong [legislative] support for the bill,” Kline said. “As the deadline loomed, Senate leadership had to choose which of many good bills would make it to the Senate floor for a vote. This bill had to compete with bills that reform our healthcare funding systems, create incentives for clean fuels, give teachers a raise, fix our employment security departments, etc. It just didn’t make it.”

Schraum said he was surprised at the sudden exit of the bill, especially with the “bumps” it overcame along the way, but said he still feels that efforts were not wasted.

Other bills in Oregon, Michigan and Illinois have been introduced since HB 1307 was proposed, moves Schraum attributed to momentum from Washington.

“Looking at the other states who are energized and looking at this legislation, I’m calling this a success even though [the bill] didn’t get passed,” Schraum said. “Other people are looking at this and, I think beforehand, there wasn’t quite an interest in it.”

With the session nearing a close, Upthegrove is moving past his “disappointment” and looking to the future: eight months down the road to the next legislative session.

“I always try to look at the positive in things,” Upthegrove said. “One positive thing is we’ve started a movement in Washington state that is going to continue after this year. Next year, we’ll be back. We’ve started a large coalition in this state against the abuse of school administrators [on student publications]. This is just the beginning.”

By Erica Hudock, SPLC staff writer

  • Washington free press bill passes Senate committee without protection for high school students News Flash, 4/2/2007
  • Washington state Senate committee hears testimony regarding student free press bill News Flash, 3/30/2007
  • Washington state House of Representatives approves free student press bill News Flash, 3/13/2007
  • Washington legislator reintroduces amendment striking high schools from student free press bill News Flash, 3/2/2007
  • Washington student free press bill passes committee on party-line vote News Flash, 2/1/2007
  • Washington state judiciary committee hears testimony for student free press bill News Flash, 1/29/2007
  • Washington legislator introduces free press bill News Flash, 1/17/2007