MINNESOTA – A New Voices bill that would protect student journalists in grades six through 12 is making its way to the House floor of the Minnesota Statehouse.
The bill, HF1868, was first introduced four years ago. It took a change of party control in the House, and the bill’s author becoming chair of the House Education Policy Committee — to get the bill a hearing in that committee this year.
“The previous chair would not hear the bill. We are also facing roadblocks in the Republican Senate,” said Rep. Cheryl Youakim, a Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party member who is the bill’s author and chair of the Education Policy Committee in Minnesota.
These laws are part of a 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. The Hazelwood decision greatly expanded the ability of public school administrators to control the content of student media.
Students think they’re going to be censored so they don’t even try to publish their stories.
Youakim, a former student journalist and journalism major in college, said she plans to offer the bill up in the House both as a standalone bill and as part of a major education spending package.
Minnesota’s legislature works on a biennium system, meaning that bills that are introduced this year can continue on next year without having to be re-introduced. Should the bill not pass this year, whatever progress it makes will roll over into next year’s legislature.
Lori Keekley is the journalism adviser at St. Louis Park (Minn.) High School and Scholastic Press Rights Committee chair for the Journalism Education Association. She has been working on efforts to pass a New Voices law in Minnesota for several years.
Keekley said her administrators don’t censor her school newspaper, but other Minnesota students and advisers face censorship, and fear retaliation for speaking out and testifying in support of the bill.
“I can’t think of any other reason why they would go from having censorship issues and being really excited about talking about them, to all of the sudden saying, oh we don’t have anything,” Keekley said. “So I know the issues exist.”
Emma Yarger is one of Keekley’s students and copy editor at the Echo newspaper. Opponents of the bill have argued that allowing students basic First Amendment rights to publish is simply a “solution in search of a problem,” Yarger said. Yarger argues that since students tend to self-censor their stories, administrators don’t see the damage and the chilling effect that restrictive policies pose.
“One thing about this bill is it’s going to prevent a lot of self-censorship that happens. Students think they’re going to be censored so they don’t even try to publish their stories,” she said.
The bill is expected to hit the House floor by mid-April, Youakim said. A companion bill is in the Senate but hasn’t moved out of committee, and staff for the Senate bill sponsor, Senator Susan Kent, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Youakim said that hopefully the bill will make it into a conference committee with the Senate later in the spring.
Previous coverage here.
SPLC reporter Cory Dawson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-974-6318. Follow him on Twitter at @Dawson_and_Co.
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