Coming off the most successful year ever in the movement to outlaw image-motivated censorship in school newsrooms, 2018 opened with a burst of activity in legislatures from Washington to New York.
In the opening days of the new year, bills were introduced in Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey and New York, with holdover bills reactivated in Minnesota and Washington.
Three states — Nevada, Rhode Island and Vermont — enacted reform legislation in 2017, bringing the total nationally to 13.
While the features of the bills vary slightly among states, they share the central purpose of restoring the rights of student journalists to the level of legally protected press freedom that existed before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1988 Hazelwood decision drastically diminished students’ rights. Most of the laws also expressly protect journalism advisers against retaliatory personnel actions for their students’ legally protected speech.
Missouri and Washington, two states that came within one floor vote of final enactment last session, were first out of the starting gate this year.
The Washington Senate passed Sen. Joe Fain’s SB 5064 on Friday by a vote of 43-5. The bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate last session as well, but stalled in the House and never reached the floor for a final vote.
In Missouri, Rep. Kevin Corlew’s HB 1940 received a favorable reception in the House Elementary & Secondary Education Committee, with no one testifying in opposition. Legislators heard Wednesday from high-school editors and advisers as well as the head of the Missouri Press Association. No vote has been scheduled, but the committee unanimously passed the same bill in 2017 — only to see it bottled up in the Senate as the session’s clock tolled.
Indiana Rep. Ed Clere is back after a narrow 2017 defeat to try again with HB 1016, which has its first test Thursday in the House Education Committee, on which Clere sits.
Newly filed bills in Nebraska (LB 886), New Jersey (A238) and New York (S7355) have not yet been calendared for any action. The New York legislature (where an Assembly companion to S7355 has been pending since last year) typically spends the early part of the year on budget matters and then focuses on substantive legislation during the spring and summer.
In Minnesota, HF 1501 by Rep. Cheryl Youakim, introduced in February 2017 but never acted on, will be eligible for consideration when legislators return to St. Paul on Feb. 20.
SPLC Senior Legal Fellow Frank LoMonte can be reached by email.
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