Under the Dome

Indiana will study bill that would expand school authorityonline

INDIANAPOLIS — A bill that would have given school officialsgreater authority to control student’s Internet posts is on hold, at leastuntil next year.

Thelegislation would have authorized school officials to discipline students foranything that creates “interference with school purposes,” even if done athome, after school or on weekends. The bill’s sponsor said it was designed torespond to cyberbulling and online cheating.

Afterdrawing the attention of free-speech activisits, the legislature sent the billto a “study committee” to be reviewed during the interim between sessions.

Anti-Hazelwood legislation fails in Nebraska, Vermont in2012 session

LINCOLN/MONTPELIER — Legislation to increase the free pressprotections for high school journalists remained stalled in 2012.

Abill in Nebraska was carried over from the 2011 session, but did not come upfor a committee vote.

Alegislator in Vermont introduced a student expression bill in that state, but aSenate committee did not hold a hearing on it.

Thelegislation could be reintroduced next year. Seven states have “anti-Hazelwood” laws on the books,providing high school journalists with broad protection.

Arizona, Connecticut consider restrictions on ‘annoying’speech

PHOENIX/HARTFORD — Bills in Connecticut and Arizona tocriminalize “annoying” speech online failed to pass during the 2012 session.

Bothbills would have made it a misdemeanor to communicate electronically with theintent to annoy another person. The Arizona legislation would have applied toany “obscene, lewd, or profane language,” while the Connecticut bill was limited to embarrassing or humiliating information based on someone’s “actual or perceived traits or characteristics.”

Freeexpression groups in Connecticut managed to have the bill held in committeewithout a vote, though it may return next year.

InArizona, where the legislation passed both houses and appeared almost certainto pass, an amendment stripped out the“annoying” speech provisions. The remaining portions of the law, dealing withcyberstalking, were signed into law in May.

Ifthey had passed, both bills would likely have been challenged in court underthe First Amendment.

Responding to student’s case, Colo. lawmakers repealcriminal libel law

DENVER — Libel is no longer a crime in Colorado, after lawmakers repealedit in response to a former college student’s eight-year legal battle.

ThomasMink sued a local prosecutor after police seized his computer whileinvestigating his satirical newsletter, The Howling Pig, in 2003. One of Mink’sprofessors claimed the newsletter defamed him. Mink was never charged.

Afederal appeals court declined to rule on the constitutionality of the law, buta judge did find the prosecutor should not have signed the search warrantbecause the Howling Pig was clearly protected speech. Mink settled his lawsuitin 2011 for $425,000.

Afterhearing about Mink’s case, a legislator introduced a bill to repeal thecriminal libel law. Colorado’s governor signed the repeal in April.

Criminallibel laws remain on the books in at least 12 states, though prosecutions arerare. Those who believe they’ve been libeled can continue to file civillawsuits for money damages.