Despite COVID, New Voices made significant progress in 2020

When the legislative sessions began in January, New Voices advocates in more than a dozen states intended to make 2020 an historic year for student media. They had no way of knowing what was to come. Throughout 2020 student journalists and New Voices advocates weathered a pandemic, interrupted legislatures, a record-setting election, widespread protests, risks to student and commercial journalists alike, and unprecedented educational challenges. Yet despite all these barriers, 2020 may have been the most successful year to date for New Voices.

New Voices legislation in 2020 advanced every time it was considered. Long-stuck legislation moved even as legislatures halted much of their work due to COVID-19 and prioritized only the most essential bills when they returned to business. New coalitions were formed, and states that have had student press freedom protections for decades moved to match them to New Voices legislation and the future of student media. And students took a prominent new role in leading the New Voices movement. 

Among the highlights of New Voices 2020:

  • The Governor of Colorado signed into law updates to Colorado’s 30-year-old student media law to include digital and broadcast media and add protections for student media advisers who refuse to infringe upon their students’ press rights.
  • The New Jersey Senate unanimously voted to approve New Voices on the last day of their 2019 session in January, then immediately repeated that vote when the legislature convened for the 2020 session a week later. 
  • The Hawaii House overwhelmingly approved New Voices legislation for the first time. The legislation made it to the final committee necessary for approval in the Senate, before it was held solely because COVID-19 had made final negotiations around the bill impossible.
  • An Iowa legislative committee approved updating their law, in place since 1989, to include protections for student media advisers.
  • The Nebraska legislature voted two of three times to approve New Voices. Advocates were confident they had the votes to overrule a filibuster on the legislation, but the session was interrupted by COVID-19 before that vote could take place.
  • Legislation was introduced in Kentucky for the first time.
  • The Minnesota House gave preliminary approval to HF 1868.
  • Two Missouri committees approved HB 2317.
  • The Virginia legislature approved HB36, protecting college students and advisers. The bill protecting both high school and college students was approved by a subcommittee for the first time.
  • Students from across the country joined SPLC as New Voices Student Leaders, committed to serving prominent organizing roles throughout the 2020 school year.
  • Altogether, student press freedom bills were considered in a record 12 states: Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, MissouriNebraskaNew JerseyNew YorkPennsylvania, and Virginia.

While COVID-19 stymied efforts in a number of states, the momentum of New Voices legislation in 2020 and the tireless work of student journalists since forecasts tremendous opportunity for student press freedom in 2021. Some legislatures will undoubtedly limit the bills they take on, but legislators across the country have already signified their intent to re-file New Voices bills for consideration. With many legislatures meeting remotely, student journalists and advisers have a new opportunity to testify on legislation without the often-insurmountable burden of traveling to the state capital during a school day. And the events of 2020 and the critical role student journalists played in keeping communities safe, informed and connected has reframed the discussion about what student journalists want to write about and why, and what is at stake when they are prevented from doing so. 

State legislatures opened for the year beginning January 4, 2021. Find more information on New Voices and the 2021 legislative efforts here: