For those still nursing the taste of disappointment after Indiana’s legislature adjourned without passing a promising New Voices press-freedom bill, there’s a palate-cleanser: Bills are advancing in states across the country, including a newly filed one that just debuted this week.
Here’s where the bills stand.
In a positive (and efficient) development on Tuesday, SB 420 was read, debated, and approved 21-0 in the span of about five minutes. Patrick File, an assistant professor in media law at the University of Nevada-Reno who has helped organize the New Voices movement in his state, attributes the efficiency to necessity.
“That was the last day that bills could pass through either the Senate or the Assembly,” File said. “And so basically any bill that was introduced in the Senate had to pass the Senate by that time and the same went for the Assembly. That’s part of why the president and all of the Senators standing up to speak were sounding sort of like auctioneers.”
The Silver State tried once before to pass similar legislation – in 1989, the year after Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier was decided. The Nevada House Education Committee now has until May 19 to act on the bill. Student journalism advocates are still hoping to work toward improving the bill as it works through the House, including removing a provision that could be read as requiring schools to adopt prior-approval policies rather than making the practice optional.
The Green Mountain State is marching along with HB 513 – an omnibus education bill that now includes a provision protecting student press rights in public grade schools and colleges. Friday, the House approved several additions to the bill and passed the whole shebang on to the Senate.
If you’re feeling lost (because we’ve been here before), HB 513 became the vehicle carrying student press-rights protections after a standalone New Voices bill (SB 18) got bogged down in the House committee process.
The House made changes to the version of HB 513 that had been sent over from the Senate, so it’s back to the Senate to approve those changes.
On a parallel track, the original version of the press-freedom bill, Sen. Jeanette White’s SB 18, cleared the House Judiciary Committee on a vote of 8-0 Thursday with one abstention. It is being sent back to the House Education Committee for its concurrence, though that bill could be rendered moot if HB 513 becomes law first.
Last week, the prospects for Sen. Kimberly Yee’s SB 1384 looked dicey, as the bill was held on the House calendar, postponing a vote under concerns of possible opposition by Democrats who unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill.
That amendment sought to extend press freedom to any schools that accepted students under the state-funded empowerment scholarship program, a school-choice voucher that many Democrats oppose.
On Thursday, the bill was brought to the House floor again, where an amendment prohibiting lewd and obscene language in journalistic publications in K-12 schools was added. House members also clarified that only high schools, not colleges, may exercise a brief prior-review period to check for legally unprotected content.
With those changes, the bill passed on a voice vote. It still requires a formal vote to return to the Senate for approval. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn May 5, so the bill must pass next week or it’s defunct for the year.
And finally, a House Democrat from the Great Lakes State introduced legislation to protect student press freedoms Thursday. HB 4551, titled the Student Free Press Act, is sponsored by Rep. Darrin Camilleri, D-Brownstown Township.
In a statement, Camilleri echoed the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas in deciding Tinker v. Des Moines, the ruling that Hazelwood weakened 19 years later:
“The protections of the First Amendment shouldn’t stop at the school doors,” Camilleri said. “Not only do student publications teach valuable skills that young people can use later in their education or in their professional life, but they also instill a core American value of a free and open press as a vital part of a functioning democracy.”