West Virginia Senate approves New Voices bill

Bright blue and white logo saying New Voices on a dark blue background

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 25, 2023

Contact: Hillary Davis, Advocacy and Organizing Director
hdavis@splc.org, (202) 785-5451

West Virginia Senate Approves New Voices Legislation; SPLC Requests Amendment

The West Virginia Senate unanimously passed New Voices legislation restricting the censorship of student journalists. Sponsored by Senator Mike Azinger, SB 121 ensures that student journalists at the high school and college level determine the content of student media and cannot be censored except in certain extraordinary circumstances. The legislation also protects from retaliation against advisers who refuse to unlawfully censor their students. The bill now heads to the House for consideration. The Student Press Law Center has urged, and will continue to urge, for an amendment to address remaining concerns regarding unconstitutional language in the bill.  

This is the second time in two years the West Virginia Senate has supported a student press freedom protection bill. New Voices legislation was first introduced in 2022, and a version protecting only college students was approved by the Senate. This year, the Senate Education committee, after written testimony submitted by the Student Press Law Center, expanded the bill to protect high school student journalists and advisers. 

The legislation is a tremendous step forward for West Virginia’s student journalists and puts West Virginia in line to be the 17th state to restore and protect student press freedom. However, the Student Press Law Center is urging a critical amendment to the bill to ensure it remains solely an expansion, and not an unconstitutional restriction, of student press freedom.  

In written testimony to the Senate Education Committee, the Student Press Law Center noted that the legislation’s current prohibition on language that is “obscene, vulgar, or offensive to a reasonable person” is an overbroad limitation on the rights of student journalists, especially those at the college level. The SPLC noted: “While the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way in its Fraser decision for high school officials to prohibit ‘less than obscenity,’ such speech — which likely includes vulgarity and other generally offensive speech — is definitely protected at the college level. Censorship of a college student journalist for vulgar or offensive speech would likely be struck down as unconstitutional.” SPLC will continue to advocate for deletion of this unconstitutional language before the bill is passed by the House.

Any West Virginians interested in more information on this legislation and how to get involved should contact SPLC’s Advocacy and Organizing Director, Hillary Davis, at hdavis@splc.org. The West Virginia legislature is scheduled to adjourn on March 11, 2023.