Washington New Voices bill officially heads to governor’s desk

UPDATE: The leaders of both Washington state’s legislative bodies have signed off on Substitute Senate Bill 5064, and the New Voices bill has officially been delivered to the governor’s office.

The bill was delivered on March 9. Gov. Jay Inslee has 20 days to take action on the bill from the date it is received and provide 24 hours notice before signing it.

2/3/2018

WASHINGTON —  It looks like 2018 will finally be the year that a New Voices bill gets to the governor’s desk. With less than an hour before the legislature’s deadline on March 2, Washington’s House passed it with a 91-6 vote.

SSB5064 — the latest version of a bill that has been fighting through the legislature for more about a dozen years — will now head to the Senate where the body must approve of the amendments tacked onto it by the House Judiciary Committee and the full House. 

The bill ensures First Amendment protections for student journalists to be free from school censorship, something that was muddied in 1988 after the Supreme Court’s Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier decision.

Kathy Schrier, the executive director of the Washington Journalism Education Association, said the vote was “amazing,” particularly considering how close it came to the deadline.

“We really didn’t think there would be time,” she said. “We really didn’t expect them to have time to hear it.”

She is part of a grassroots coalition of students, teachers, First Amendment advocates and others who testified before the legislature, written letters and grew support year after year. 

The only amendment passed on the House floor on Friday created an intent section of the bill and did not change its meaning. Five other amendments were originally proposed. Four were withdrawn and was deemed to be outside the scope of the bill.

Schrier expressed confidence that Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, would be able to see the bill through. She said nothing in the bill is substantively different from the version the Senate passed in January.

“There’s just no way that they would change their votes because of anything that happened to it,” Schrier said.

Several representatives on both sides of the aisle rose in favor of the bill on Friday. Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said there were a number of reasons why House members should support the bill.

“It may be because you believe in free speech,” Jinkins said. “It may be because you don’t think advisers … ought to be able to be disciplined or moved out of their job because they are encouraging free speech of students.”

But for Jinkins, she said the reason was that she wants her 17-year-old son to explore issues around free speech and other opportunities for growth.

“When he is in high school, that is a great time for him to explore these things, but to have people around him who have expertise and can counsel him and can talk to him and can guide him, but not necessarily always stop him from making what may be either a good decision or a bad decision,” she said.

Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R- Auburn, also urged representatives to vote favorably. He said there were some on his side of the aisle with reservations regarding the bill. He mentioned some wishing the bill did “a little bit more” to address free speech on college campuses.

Stokesbary also referenced a situation in college, where student journalists helped exonerate individuals who were accused of “heinous crimes.” Overall, he said the bill’s benefits outweighed its drawbacks.

“I think teaching students about the importance of free speech is tremendously important, but also teaching them about the responsibilities that the First Amendment brings to us all is important,” he said. “The First Amendment is only as important as those of us who carry it on.”

SPLC staff writer Taylor Potter can be reached by email or at (202) 478-1926. He is on Twitter @wmtaylorpotter.

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