Missouri New Voices bill passes Senate committee (for the third year in a row)

MISSOURI — After a unanimous 7-0 vote, Missouri’s New Voices bill passed successfully April 10 through the Senate Education Committee and should head to a full Senate vote next.

There are five weeks left in Missouri’s session for the Senate to take up the bill.

House Bill 1940 would guarantee freedom of the press in school-sponsored media for both public high schools and public colleges. Not all speech is protected under the bill. Exemptions include: speech that is libelous, incites violence, contains a threat, engages in illegal activity, violates the rights of others, advertises an illegal product, encourages breaking school policies or disrupts the operation of the school.

New Voices is a student-powered movement to give student journalists protection from censorship. New Voices legislation has passed in 14 states, with Washington passing a version of the bill in 2018.

The passage came after several supporters testified in front of the committee on March 27. At the hearing, Mitch Eden, the student media adviser at Kirkwood High School, said this bill is an important measure to give students an outlet to express their ideas and opinions, referencing the “powerful” movement led by students from Parkland, Florida, in the wake of a school shooting.

“They do deserve to be heard,” he said to the committee. “Teens practicing media in a safe environment, in a respectful manner, under the supervision of a trained adult is journalism adults can learn from these days.”

This is the third straight year the bill — which would establish the Walter Cronkite New Voices Act — has passed the House with heavy support and passed a Senate committee, but it has never been brought before the full Senate.

Before the bill was brought up for the committee vote, there were concerns that groups representing school boards planned to propose “killer amendments” that would severely weaken the bill. The New Voices of Missouri Facebook page urged supporters to contact committee members and ask them to reject these changes.

One amendment was passed by the committee, adding content that constitutes disorderly conduct to the list of speech not protected by the bill. Advocates say that change does not harm the bill like some of the “killer amendments” would have, and “disorderly conduct” speech would likely have been prevented through the bill’s original language.

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

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