Oregon student free expression bill passes Senate, awaits concurrence from House

OREGON — A bill that will protect the press rights of high school and college journalists squeaked by on a narrow vote of 16-14 on the Oregon Senate floor Monday and is awaiting a concurrence from the state’s House of Representatives before it is sent to Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) for his signature.

If passed and signed into law, House Bill 3279 will become the first piece of legislation passed by a state to protect both high school and college student publications under one statute and the first high school protections enacted since 1995. But some experts have expressed concern that the amendments legislators have tacked on to the bill will water down its protections.

Amendments to HB 3279 made by the Senate Judiciary Committee included the removal of a provision that protects high school and college student media advisers from being punished for “refusing to suppress the protected expression of student journalists” and the deletion of a clause that stipulates that college-sponsored media are to be designated “public forums” and are not subject to prior review by college officials.

If the House concurs with the Senate’s revisions Thursday, Gov. Kulongoski has said he will sign the bill, his spokesperson Jake Weigler said.

Neil Bryant, a lobbyist and attorney for the Oregon University system who proposed some revisions that were incorporated into the Senate’s amendments, said these “improvements” helped push the bill through the Oregon legislature.

“If the amendments had not been made, the bill would have failed,” he said.

The amended bill is expected to considered by the House on Thursday.