ARIZONA—Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed the New Voices bill, SB 1384, just a few days after the General Assembly wrapped up their legislative session.
The bill aimed to establish free-press protections for student journalists and their advisers in both high school and college publications, and to create policies that would prohibit administrations from exercising prior restraint.
Ducey prefaced his response to the legislature with claims that he supports free speech, free press and the role student journalists play in supporting one of the key foundations of American democracy.
“I worry, however, that this bill could create unintended consequences, especially on high school campuses where adult supervision and mentoring is most important,” Ducey wrote.
Sen. Kimberly Yee, who sponsored the bill, said she was disappointed with the governor’s decision, but she would continue to support student journalists and their First Amendment rights.
“There was overwhelming support for this bill and it passed the Arizona Senate with a bipartisan, unanimous vote,” Yee said. “There were numerous First Amendment rights advocates, student journalists and advisors from all around the state who helped to usher this bill to the governor’s desk and they were surprised by the veto.”
Yee said a similar bill could be introduced in the next legislative session, but she’ll be talking with the different stakeholders of SB 1384 to discuss their next steps.
While the bill was discussed on the House floor, state representatives raised concerns about what they felt were unnecessary protections to student journalists and the consequences they would have on the messages being disseminated.
When the bill’s supporters contended that liberal and conservative voices would have expanded freedoms, Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, argued that there were not conservative voices being silenced at schools and contended that, “the more likely consequence is exactly the opposite of what the sponsor of this bill intends.”
The bill does not extend protections to unlawful speech like libel and threatening language, or actions that substantially disrupt the school’s ability to educate students. In addition, student newsrooms are structured to have advisors or instructors guide and monitor the publications.
The bill also left room for local schools to prohibit any speech that is lewd or obscene, and stipulated that school publications have student journalist code of ethics for reporting responsibly, fairly and in an accurate manner, a restriction non-student media do not have.
Paula Casey, the executive director of the Arizona Newspaper Association, said she was disappointed to hear about the veto.
The ANA has worked with the Arizona Interscholastic Press Association, and during the bill’s discussion period Casey spoke on behalf of student publications, saying they have countermeasures to prevent poor judgement, mistakes and unlawful actions, from waves of student editing to final checks from instructors.
SPLC staff writer Marjorie Kirk can be reached by email or (202) 974-6317
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