House lawmakers ‘fast-tracking’ Missouri New Voices bill in 2019

Mitch Eden, Jack Rintoul, Rep. Deb Lavender, Thora Pearson, Maddie Meyers Photographer: Hannah Hall, Lavender's Chief of Staff

Feb. 13, 2019

UPDATE: Missouri’s New Voices bill passed a key House committee vote on Wednesday, Feb. 13.

HB 743 passed unanimously in executive session, with all twelve committee members supporting it, House General Laws committee Vice Chairman Jered Taylor (R-District 139) said in a text message.

The vote moves the bill to the House Rules-Legislative oversight committee, where it could be heard as early as the week of February 18— though the committee’s schedule has yet to be determined.

Feb. 8, 2019

For three consecutive years, Missouri’s New Voices bill has fizzled in the statehouse. It has passed in the House each time only to stall in the Senate.

But this year, more signs are pointing to success for advocates — the proposed law has been “fast-tracked” by House Speaker Rep. Elijah Haahr, according to the bill sponsor Rep. Craig Fishel. Haahr, the new Speaker, sponsored the original iteration of the measure four years ago.

The bill is the Missouri version of the nationwide effort to pass “New Voices” bills in state legislatures, which effectively counteract and clarify the limits of the 1988 Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier Supreme Court decision, a case that originated in a Missouri high school.

The Hazelwood decision greatly expanded the ability of public school administrators to control the content of student media.

Grassroots nonpartisan coalitions powered by students and other volunteers in 2015-16 started a renewed annual push for New Voices legislation around the country. These state laws are intended to protect the First Amendment press rights of student journalists at the high school and college level and prevent retaliation against their advisers and teachers. So far in 2019, bills have been introduced in 8 states, with several others pending.

“I don’t know how much faster it can move,” said Fishel, a Republican. The Cronkite New Voices Bill HB 743, is named after Missouri native Walter Cronkite, the famed CBS correspondent and anchor.

The bill is one of only two pieces of legislation Fishel is currently sponsoring in his freshman term. And he has a personal connection to journalism education — his wife.

“She, being a journalism teacher, she’s been following this for several years. She asked me to go to the speaker’s office,” Fishel said.

At a Feb. 6 hearing for the bill before the General Laws committee, at least eight advocates showed up to support. Those who testified included student journalists, journalism advisers, representatives from the Missouri Press Association, the Missouri chapter of the National Education Association and the ACLU.   

Student reporters from the The Kirkwood Call, an award-winning newspaper at Kirkwood (Mo.) High School both covered and testified at the hearing Wednesday, as they’ve done in years past.

Jack Rintoul, Editor-in-Chief of The Kirkwood Call, said that while his administrators are open to student reporters and respectful of the paper’s role, they didn’t need to be.

“If they wanted to, they could start enacting prior review. And that’s why the New Voices act is so important,” Rintoul said in an interview before the Feb. 6 hearing. Rintoul was at last year’s hearing as well, writing about his editor’s testimony as a reporter for The Call.

Rintoul’s adviser, Mitch Eden, is a key volunteer spearheading his year’s efforts. Eden said that over the years, as the bill has failed to pass the Senate, the provision to protect student journalists have changed.

Past iterations of the bill had protections for students in middle and elementary schools — the current version covers students in public high schools and colleges. It also now protects Missouri school administrators and media advisers from being held responsible for the content of student publications.

“This is really a watered-down version of the Kansas New Voices bill, and the Illinois bill. We can’t go any different. The bill is what it is. We just have to drum up the right support this year,” Eden said.

Eden is a former president of the Missouri Journalism Education Association, and is a current  board member of the National Scholastic Press Association. Eden echoed Rintoul, saying that Kirkwood administrators are highly respectful of student reporters, and understand the educational value of a working student paper where journalists can make mistakes without fear of retribution.

Students at schools where administrators regularly censor news are learning the wrong lessons, he said.

“More than anything what I hate to see is the self-censorship component. When I show examples and we talk about it and kids go, ‘well we can never do that at our school’,” Eden said.

SPLC reporter Cory Dawson can be reached at or at 202-974-6318. Follow him on Twitter at @Dawson_and_Co

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