Nevada New Voices bill looks to add on to existing free speech rights

NEVADA—The rights of Nevada’s student journalists could get a boost if a New Voices bill just filed in the state legislature can make it to the governor’s desk.

SB 420 is a Nevada state Senate bill that would clarify the rights to students in public colleges and high schools to publish the lawful journalistic material they choose. Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) filed the bill Monday, the day of the state’s deadline for legislative introductions.

Currently, Nevada state law doesn’t specifically mention the student press, which University of Nevada-Reno media law professor Patrick File says is an issue not only for student journalism but for civics education, a priority for Cannizzaro.

“It’s very much a kind of ‘now more than ever’ sort of issue … civics education is a big issue and I think it’s a very salient one now for high school and college students and sort of helping students become more civically engaged and more knowledgeable on civics issues,” File said.

File said the bill was introduced as a broad piece of legislation and will be revised further once it gets deeper into the committee process. It contains similarities to Vermont’s SB 18 in explicitly protecting the right to engage in controversial speech. Nevada’s legislative process requires that bills, once written into law, get grafted onto the existing code.

Nevada currently protects student free expression under a law passed in 2015. This new anti-Hazelwood bill will, in effect, clarify that student journalists in public schools and universities will receive the benefit of First Amendment-like protections.

Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier was a 1988 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that high school student media do not enjoy the same First Amendment protections as are applied to professional media. New Voices bills like SB 420 seek to reverse that standard on a state-by-state level.

As the bill is worked, File said liabilities protections for teachers and administrators will be worked in, as well as other clarifications and modifications to the Nevada Revised Code.

“What was introduced to the Nevada Senate is a bill that’s relatively broad and straightforward at this point, that is to say, basically adds to the existing protection for student free speech rights,” File said.

The bill has been referred to the Nevada Senate’s Education Committee and is not yet scheduled for a hearing. Journalism educators and student journalists are expected to participate in promoting SB 420 as it moves through Nevada’s legislature.

SPLC staff writer James Hoyt can be reached by email or (202) 478-1926.

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