Illinois Senate sends amended college press freedom bill to governor

ILLINOIS – With overwhelming support from the state legislature, an amended anti-censorship bill needs only the signature of Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) to become law.

If the governor signs the bill, SB0729, known as the College Campus Press Act, all public college and community college publications in the state would be designated as forums for student expression starting in January 2008.

The law would effectively negate the 2005 Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Hosty v. Carter in that state. The Hosty decision could allow public college administrators to impose prior review and restraint on student newspapers if the publication is not a designated public forum for student expression. It applies to Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, which comprise the Seventh Circuit.

“Passage of Senate Bill 729 is a major step in restoring the free speech and free press rights of student journalists on our college campuses,” said Edwin Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “We are grateful that the legislators responded so positively to this idea when we brought it to their attention.”

Illinois Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest) introduced the bill in early February with assistance from the ACLU. Senators passed the bill unanimously in March.

The House, which approved the measure 112-2, amended the bill last week to protect administrators from being held liable for any student-produced material and allow them to punish students who use unprotected speech. The Senate unanimously approved the amendment Wednesday.

Jim Ferg-Cadima, legislative counsel for the ACLU of Illinois, said last week that the ACLU looks forward to the support of the governor. However, the bill is virtually veto-proof, he said, because of the legislators’ overwhelming support.

By Jenny Redden, SPLC staff writer

CORRECTION, Aug. 15: The initial version of this story misstated when the College Campus Press Act was sent to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The bill passed the General Assembly June 6, but was not sent to the governor until July 5. The SPLC regrets the error.

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