Senate committee tentatively okays New Voices press freedom act

            The SenateJudiciary Committee voted tentatively Tuesday to approve a bill giving studentsenhanced legal protection against school censorship, but the legislation mustreturn to the committee next week where changes may be made.

            The measurepassed on a 7-0 vote after its proponents assured they committee they’d workwith lobbyists for school principals and superintendents toward reaching acompromise.

            House Bill5902 has already passed the House unanimously. It would blunt the impact of theSupreme Court’s 1988 ruling in HazelwoodSchool District v. Kulhmeier that gave schools broad censorship authorityover journalistic publications produced as part of school curriculum.

            The bill,sponsored by Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, is being handled in the Senate bySen. Daniel Biss, D-Skokie.

            DuringTuesday’s hearing, Biss ran into skeptical questioning particularly fromRepublican senators, who questioned why the bill was needed and whether itwould interfere with schools’ ability to manage.

            Sen. ChrisNybo, R-Lombard, pointed sympathetically to the recent case of an Illinois principalwho threatened to cancel the journalism program and shutter the newspaper afterstudents published an article critical of a change in the starting time of theschool day. “In my mind,” Nybo said, “they’re students first and journalistssecond.”

            Thecommittee chairman, Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, said he was troubled by the useof vague terms such as “obscene” to characterize the types of journalisticspeech that schools would retain the authority to prevent

            Ultimately,the committee members – fatigued after a day-long Senate floor debate over acontentious school funding issue – agreed to pass the bill, but asked Biss toentertain amendments to address the concerns they’d raised. Biss said he plansto bring the measure back next week.

            The Leagueof Women Voters of Illinois, the Illinois Library Association, the ACLU ofIllinois and many other educational and civil-rights organizations filedstatements with the committee supporting the bill

            Last month,Maryland became the ninth state to enact a statute giving heightened legalprotection to student journalists, following the lead of North Dakota, whichspawned the nationwide New Voices movement that has since spread to at least 19other states.