NEBRASKA — Student journalists in Nebraska will have to wait at least another year for New Voices, as the Judiciary Committee is not expected to take any action on the bill. New Voices is a student-powered movement to give student journalists protection from censorship. New Voices legislation has passed in 13 states.
Nebraska’s legislative rules were partially to blame for the bill stalling out. The body has a shorter legislative session during even-numbered years, only 60 days. Because of this, the legislature tends to push lower-priority bills to odd-numbered years, where they have 90 days.
Michael Kennedy, the executive director for the Nebraska College Media Association and one of the organizers for the bill, said he was not surprised that the bill died in committee, given the short session.
“But that doesn’t mean that we’re giving up,” he said. “We will be back next year.”
Kennedy said he’s been in touch with Sen. Adam Morfeld, D-Lincoln, who sponsored the bill, and they are prepared to bring the bill back up next year.
Kennedy said Morfeld’s support for the bill has made a big difference because of the senator’s influence in the state capitol. Kennedy, who lives further west in the state, said it’s a seven hour drive for him to get to Lincoln, so it’s been helpful to have Morfeld onboard.
“We’re grateful to have somebody like that behind our bill,” he said.
More than a dozen supporters testified in support of the bill during its committee hearing on Feb. 8, the majority of whom were students, Kennedy said. The students made an impression on the senators, and Kennedy said he hopes it happens again next year.
He thought the bill had a “pretty good shot” this year, though his confidence waned after the committee did not vote in the days following the hearing.
Madison Pohlman, a student at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln, testified at the hearing and said she thought this year’s bill was stronger than it had been before. She had been involved with the legislation since 2016, the first year it was introduced.
“I thought this bill was a lot more in line with what we wanted to see happening,” Pohlman said. “It really felt like the right time. Unfortunately… I guess not.”
Pohlman said she experienced censorship while working at her high school newspaper, Omaha North High Magnet School’s The North Star. She said the school had censored stories on school shootings and gender-based insults.
Even with the bill stalling this year, Pohlman is optimistic it will pass in the future. She said there were many “hot topic” issues being addressed by the legislature this year, such as medical marijuana.
“Hopefully next year we can get a little more time and make it happen,” she said. “It’s a really important time for this type of bill to be coming out. Everyone wants to create a more honest and ethical media, and I think that training really starts in high school classrooms.”
Nathaniel Smith, a sophomore at Omaha North High Magnet School and the magazine editor for The North Star, also testified in favor of the bill. He said it was “disheartening” to hear the bill would not move on, especially with the amount of support it had during the hearing.
Even so, he feels more confident about the bill’s chances next year.
“We can do better,” Smith said, “I think about it, and I’m like, ‘this is what we did wrong. This is what we need to do next year.’”
*Correction: A previous version of this story said the Nebraska legislative session is 50 days during even-numbered years, we corrected it to 60 days.
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