New Voices 2020 preview

Hillary Davis speaks to high school journalists and their advisers about New Voices at the 2019 National High School Journalism Convention in Washington, D.C. / Joe Severino
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Hillary Davis, SPLC’s New Voices Advocacy and Campaign Organizer, sits down and walks us through the New Voices movement in 2020. Find out what’s happening in your state and how you can get involved.

Full Transcript

Joe Severino: In January, state legislatures across the country will meet for the start of their 2020 lawmaking sessions, and New Voices legislation will be on the agenda in many.

New Voices is a student-powered nonpartisan grassroots movement of state-based activists who seek to protect student press freedom with state laws. These laws counteract the impact of the 1988 Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier Supreme Court decision, which dramatically changed the balance of student press rights. 

New Voices supporters include advocates in law, education, journalism and civics who want schools and colleges to be more welcoming places for student voices.

There are currently 14 states that have already passed New Voices legislation into law; the first being California in 1977 and the latest being Washington in 2018. 

Hi, my name is Joe Severino, and you’re listening to the Student Press Law Center podcast. SPLC is the nation’s only nonprofit legal organization devoted exclusively to defending the free press rights of high school and college journalists and their advisers across the country.

Today, we’re giving a preview of what to expect and how to get involved in the New Voices movement in 2020.


JS: Hillary Davis is SPLC’s New Voices Advocacy and Campaign Organizer. She joined us in October and she’s here with me today. Hillary, can you tell us a little about yourself and your work here at the SPLC?

Hillary Davis: Sure, so here at the SPLC, my job is to help New Voices advocates across the country who are looking to get New Voices legislation passed. I am somebody who was a state-level lobbyist for a really long time, so one of the things that I can really bring to the New Voices family is the ability to kind of demystify the legislature and to tell advocates what’s normal, what’s weird, things that I have seen before, things that I’ve experienced.

Most of the New Voices advocates are advisers, teachers, students; they’re people who never anticipated that they were going to be in a statehouse, and so my role is to largely help them navigate that. In addition, I am responsible for making sure that anything that we see that’s coming up that are patterns, anything that we see that’s been great in other states or not so great in other states, we can let everybody know. And generally just try to empower the advocates who are already doing the work to cross the finish line and have really great successes.

JS: Yeah, so some people do know about the New Voices movement, some don’t. For those who don’t, just tell us why this is so important especially for the core mission of student journalists.

HD: So in general if you are a student, particularly on a high school campus but also a college campus, you have certain free speech rights that carry with you. You don’t leave them behind just because you have come to school. If you’re a student journalist, however, you actually have fewer rights than the other students who are on campus because of a Supreme Court case known as Hazelwood. The Supreme Court came in and said that the school has the ability, and sometimes the responsibility, to censor certain things that you may think are important to talk about. But they’re really vague is to why they should be censoring this kind of stuff. 

So what we have seen is student journalists censored for all types of reasons all across the country over the last 30 years, and what it’s creating is this environment of self censorship where student journalists aren’t even thinking about talking about controversial things. They are stopping themselves from even thinking about reporting on things that are very important to their community, and that’s not great. It’s not great for the students, it’s not great for journalism and it’s not great for their cities and towns. Student journalists are stepping in and doing more and more of the journalism work as a lot of the daily and weekly newspapers start to shutter. And it’s really important that they can come to the table and tell the whole story.

JS: Okay, so many states are going to begin their legislative session here in a few weeks when the new year hits, so right now, what’s the best case scenario number for how many states see New Voices legislation introduced?

HD: I mean the best case scenario is you know, 36. We’ve got legislation that’s already in place in 14 states and we’ve got 36 to go. I am anticipating that we will probably have — we’ll definitely have legislation in at least a dozen states, possibly 16, possibly as many as 20. There is plenty of time still for New Voices advocates to come forward and decide they want to do something now in the legislative year; we’ve got weeks to go. I’m really excited to see how many states we end up seeing legislation in. 

JS: Yeah, so you said there’s some states that have legislation that’ll be returning, are there any states that particularly excite you, that were close to the finish line last year but couldn’t get it across?

HD: I think there’s a lot of that. We have 10 states that are coming back for another sort of crack [at it], including Texas which doesn’t meet this legislative year, but there are a number that are really really close. Nebraska’s bill came out of committee and it is sitting on the calendar for a floor debate. It is entirely possible that Nebraska could have a law in a couple of months. Virginia has also come really close; their legislative session is very short so they will know very quickly whether or not there’s going to be a bill this year. New York, Pennsylnavia — all of these states did really incredible work last year and I’m excited about this year.

JS: Okay so are there any new states this year that you’ve been organizing that you’re particularly excited about?

HD: There are new states, I don’t know that they’re going to necessarily introduce the legislation. I am really excited to be hearing from more and more states. At last count I know that there are New Voices advocates in 16 states as of today; we’ll see what happens tomorrow. I think one of the really great things to see is how many students and advisers are coming forward now and saying ‘this is enough, we need to change this, now is the time to do this.’ That is really heartening and very nice to see. 

JS: Yeah so that kind of leads into this question: so if you’re out there listening and you live in a state like West Virginia or Kentucky that doesn’t have any New Voices movement or any active New Voices organizers, what would your advice be to them if they want to get involved in this?

HD: Absolutely contact the SPLC, they can contact me directly or they can give our legal team a call. You don’t know if you’re the only person who’s experiencing this. I can tell you if there’s somebody else who’s already working on it in your state and if not, you know it’s a conversation I really want to have with anybody who cares about this issue. We should be in every state this year, there’s no reason not to be.

JS: Okay thank you so much Hillary.

HD: Thank you. 


Does your state have New Voices protections? As of 2019, the 14 states that do are Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. 

If you don’t live in one of these 14 states, then we highly encourage you to work with us to make it the next one added. You can go to our website,, and click the map on our home page to find even more information on the New Voices movement.  

Hillary’s email is listed, as well as links to resources for New Voices organizers and those who want to get involved. Also, please subscribe to our monthly New Voices newsletter, which you can find on our New Voices page. 

And as always, if you’re ever facing legal trouble, go to our website and schedule a call with one of our attorneys using our free legal hotline. 

You can follow the Student Press Law Center on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The music you heard on today’s podcast was produced by DJ Williams. Thanks for listening!

SPLC reporter Joe Severino can be reached by email at or by calling 202-974-6318. Follow him on Twitter at @jj_severino.

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