New Voices of Vermont is a movement to guarantee student journalists in the state the freedom to report without fear of consequence. The movement reached a successful, though suspenseful, conclusion in the 2017 legislature with the enactment of strong press-freedom protections for college and K-12 journalists, including retaliation protection for advisers.
Senate Bill 18 was filed on Jan. 12, 2017, by Sen. Jeanette White and referred to the Senate Committee on Education.
An array of educators and students testified in support of the bill before the Education Committee, including student editors Jake Bucci and Alexandre Silberman. The Education Committee passed a slightly revised version on Feb. 7. The main change was removing protection for private educational institutions. The committee also clarified the grounds for which a K-12 school could censor student media to include “gratuitous profanity.”
The Senate unanimously approved the amended bill on Feb. 15. The House Education Committee held hearings and received mostly supportive testimony, but decided to refer the measure to the House Judiciary Committee, which delayed its progress as the adjournment date for the 2017 session was looming.
Senate supporters amended Senate Bill 18 onto a House-passed omnibus education bill, House Bill 513, in hopes of keeping the proposal alive while Sen. White’s bill was bottled up. The tactic worked; HB 513 ended up in a joint House-Senate conference committee, where it emerged with the student press freedom wording intact. The Senate passed the conference report 27-0 on May 5 and, later that day, the House concurred on a voice vote. The bill is awaiting Gov. Phil Scott’s signature.
The bill has received strong support from the student media, including:
Editorial endorsements for SB 18 include the Caledonian Record. Leading proponents of the bill included Mike Donoghue of the Vermont Press Association and Chris Evans, a University of Vermont journalism adviser and national vice president of the College Media Association. Evans wrote a history of the bill’s adventures for the Vermont Student Media Blog.
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