Washington free press bill passes Senate committee without protection for high school students

WASHINGTON — A Washington state representative conceded to removing a provision that protected high school students in his student press freedom bill in order to move the bill out of the state Senate Judiciary Committee by March 30.

Rep. Dave Upthegrove (D-Des Moines) agreed to the committee’s request to amend HB 1307 to only apply to college student publications and promised to not propose an amendment to reintroduce the high school provision when the bill is considered before the entire Washington Senate.

Upthegrove introduced the bill in January to give editorial authority to both high school and college student journalists and to limit censorship by school officials. It was passed by the state House of Representatives March 13 where it was sent to the state Senate and heard in committee on March 27.

Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Medina) introduced the amendment that would eliminate high school students from the bill. Tom said that faculty and school officials should not be spending their time on the “adventurous” actions of students raising “excitement” through student publications.

The role of taxpayers in the decision was a concern of Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn), who argued that high school students do not need to be granted authority over student publications because taxpayers are the ones who pay for “the lights in the room,” “the teacher” and “getting [the paper] printed.”

Sen. Mike Carrell (R-Lakewood) also said that removing high school students from the bill would better distinguish who has the “capacity” to make responsible editorial decisions, saying a comparison between college and high school-aged students is inappropriate.

“We’ve got to have a bright line. We can’t have a variable line for the distinction between an adult and a child,” Carrell said.

Tom’s amendment passed along with an amendment by Committee Chair Sen. Adam Kline (D-Seattle) that said students cannot seek damage claims in any lawsuits brought against the school and that any attorneys fees that are be awarded to the student must be “reasonable,” as interpreted by the court.

In a public letter Upthegrove issued after the vote, he said that despite the change in the bill, he still anticipates a “rocky road in the Senate.” The bill must pass the Senate Rules Committee and then go for a floor vote by the entire Senate.

Upthegrove also wrote that he encourages all high school press supporters to continue supporting the bill and “stand up for your college counterparts.”

“Not every college in Washington has a policy in place to fully ensure that their student paper is, indeed, treated as a public forum,” he wrote. “I also believe that passage of the college portion will build support and momentum for addressing high school student media in the future.”

Upthegrove said he does not plan to give up on a bill for high school students.

“Let’s get the college portion passed into law and then recommit ourselves to continuing to ‘finish the job’ in a future legislative session,” he wrote.

By Erica Hudock, SPLC staff writer

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