Student free press legislation continues to move forward in atleast three states, despite a failed effort in Washington state to pass whatproponents hoped would have been the most comprehensive student press law in thecountry.
After its passage last month by the Washington state House ofRepresentatives — and a subsequent amendment by a Senate committee thatstripped a provision protecting high school students — the Senate failed tobring HB 1307 up for a floor vote before its April 13 legislative deadline,effectively killing the measure.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. DaveUpthegrove (D-Des Moines), and other supporters in the state have said they planto try again in the future.
In Illinois, state senators unanimouslyapproved a bill March 15 that would protect student newspapers at Illinoispublic universities and community colleges. SB 729 does not include protectionfor high school students. It is currently awaiting further action in the stateHouse of Representatives.
In Oregon, a state House ofRepresentatives committee heard testimony March 29 and is now awaiting a vote onHB 3279, a student press freedom bill that would offer protection to both highschool and college students under one statute.
Finally, MichiganSen. Michael Switalski (D-Roseville) proposed a free press bill March 15 thatwould give K-12 students greater authority to decide the content of studentpublications and prohibit prior review by school officials. SB 352 is currentlyawaiting action before the Senate Education Committee.
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SPLCView: The last-minute amendment to the Washington law and its failure to bebrought to the floor for a full Senate vote clearly demonstrates how studentfree press legislation — particularly at the high school level — continues tobe an uphill struggle. Organized and well-financed school administrationlobbyists have been effective in convincing lawmakers that, among other things,principals will lose control of their schools as rabid student journalists runamok with their newly granted freedoms. Of course, nothing of the sort hashappened in the six states that have had such laws on the books for more than adecade and where most believe the quality of student journalism has gottenbetter, not worse. The other argument that seems to have traction with lawmakersis that public school officials should have the same editorial authority asprivate commercial publishers despite a First Amendment that exists for the solepurpose of limiting government officials’ authority over speech. Theunfortunate reality is that facts seem to count less than politics in thesebattles and the student press community needs to become as effective pushing itsagenda as school officials.