Wash. free-expression bill dies in state Senate

WASHINGTON — The state Senate’s Judiciary Committee willnot hold a hearing on a bill created to protect public high school and collegejournalists from censorship, effectively ending its chances of being passed thissession.

Brian Schraum, who has helped lead efforts to see a student free-expressionbill signed into law, acknowledged that, while he was not surprised, he wasdisappointed. In a recent e-mail to proponents of the bill Schraum expressedhis dismay that “passionate students, educators, and journalists whosupport this bill, didn’t have the opportunity to speak in Olympiaagain.”

“We knew it was an uphill battle since it was the same people votingon the issue,” Schraum told the Student Press Law Center

Sen. Joe McDermott (D-Seattle) sponsored SB6449, which would have madestudent editors responsible for all content in school-sponsored media at publichigh schools and colleges, even if the publications were school-funded oroperated as part of a class. The bill prevented colleges from institutingmandatory prior review of student publications. At the high school level, itwould have regulated the conditions under which administrators could censorstudent media outlets.

The proposal was practically identical to a bill proposed last year by Rep.Dave Upthegrove (D-Des Moines). That bill passed in the Washington House ofRepresentatives. But it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee only aftersponsors agreed to remove the protections for high school journalists. Evenwith that concession, the bill failed to get a vote before the full Senate. Supporters hoped they might have more luck this year by starting in the Senate,even though the chamber’s membership has changed little since lastyear.

Schraum also is the coordinator for the Washington Coalition forResponsible Student Expression, an organization he helped form composed of 18groups that support the bill. The coalition includes groups such as theJournalism Education Association, media groups like the Washington NewspaperPublishers Association, and civil liberties organizations, including the SPLC.

Kathy Schrier of the Washington Journalism Education Association, a membergroup of the coalition, said she felt supporters have made progress.

“One of the groups that was very much against us last time, that isthe Association of Washington School Principals, was much more reserved becauseI believe we’ve done a good job of helping them understand that the billreally isn’t a threat to school administrators,” Schrier said.

Jocelyn McCabe, communications director for the Association of WashingtonSchool Principals said it would be “premature” to comment on thebill’s apparent death.

Schrier said the coalition will try to advance the bill again next year,when committee memberships will change following this year’s elections.

“We have had a few stumbling blocks, but I think we can get pastthose,” Schrier said.

Schraum, who graduated from Washington State University in December,believes that the law will be passed eventually.

“I think it is safe to say you haven’t heard the last fromWashington State on this issue,” Schraum said.