‘Anti-Hazelwood’ legislation receives unanimous support in N.D. Senate

NORTH DAKOTA — State Senators in North Dakota gave unanimous support to legislation Thursday that would enhance students’ freedom of expression in school-sponsored media.

The bill, which Rep. Alex Looysen introduced in January, will now appear before the House of Representatives for a vote. Prior to several Senate amendments to clarify the bill’s intent, however, the House voted 92-0 in support of the proposal in February.

“You don’t want put the cart before the horse, but I’m pretty confident that this bill will become law here come summertime,” said Looysen, a Republican. “I don’t think the amendments proposed in the Senate are earth-shattering or anything, so I think there won’t be any worry as to the other House members concurring with it.”

Under the legislation, administrators at public K-12 schools and colleges would be prevented from invoking a precedent set by the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which gave administrators the ability to censor school-sponsored newspapers not designated as a public forum for student expression.

Instead, the legislation would grant student journalists the same First Amendment protections as other students under the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District Supreme Court ruling, which prohibits school officials from punishing or prohibiting student speech unless it causes a substantial disruption to the operation of the school.

Aside from clarifying language in the bill, Looysen said one Senate amendment removed language that created guidelines for the prior review of student media organizations on the collegiate level.

“We really didn’t want to have language in there that basically got them thinking ‘well maybe we should start doing that,’” Looysen said. “So we got that fixed.”

Seven other states — Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts and Oregon — already have laws similar to North Dakota’s Bill. Illinois has a comparable law that applies only to college media outlets.

Contact SPLC staff writer Mark Keierleber by email or at (202) 833-4614.