Sink or swim


Other states keep up the effort to protect free expression by law





The Supreme Court’s 1988 Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier decision gave greater power to administrators over content in student media, but state legislators continue fighting to restore free speech protections through legislation.

In Missouri, Rep. Joan Bray (D-University City) introduced a freedom of expression bill in January for the fourth time. But the bill failed to get voted out of the education committee after hearings in March.

“We’ve lost some of the people who supported us [before],” Bray said, adding that she has already made several concessions in the bill’s wording to opponents.

Bray cited the school board lobby as powerful opposition that has made it difficult for people to “hear arguments well.”

Despite the lack of progress this session, Bray plans to reintroduce the bill in January.

“I know there are a lot of people who want to keep trying,” she said.

In a separate effort, State Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez (D-Phoenix) of Arizona introduced a student free press bill during the last session that was defeated 6-1 by the Senate Education and Judicial Committee.

While Lopez “went in very excited about it,” he said there turned out to be bipartisan opposition.

The legislation was introduced on the last day to introduce bills and Lopez did not have much time to build up a lobbying effort, he said.

Lopez also postulated that a lack of support from the school board association turned Democrats away while Republicans simply did not want to remove any authority from principals.

“I am going to reintroduce it and do a little more lobbying,” Lopez said, adding that he may also change some of the wording to move the bill along.

“This year I want to put [the bill] in early. There will be more opportunity to discuss and get more testimony,” Lopez said.

Lopez also said that the widespread support for a free expression bill in Illinois could be beneficial to other states making similar efforts.

“That would be extremely helpful,” Lopez said. “We have to show that other states are taking it more seriously than we are.”

Arizona legislation on free expression has circulated since 1992.

Rep. George Eighmey (D-Portland) had no success in Oregon; the student free expression bill he sponsored was not even brought out for actual debate in the House Education Committee.

Eighmey introduced similar bills in 1989 and 1995, but the latest failure throws the bill’s future into question; because of term limits, Eighmey cannot hold his position in the legislature after this term.

Legislation for student expression has been proposed in Maine by Augusta attorney Jed Davis who said a bill will definitely be introduced during the next session in January.

In Michigan, Rep. Kirk Profit (D-Ypsilanti) had planned to reintroduce a student free expression bill that he brought to the House Education Committee last year, but he never introduced a bill this session.

Cheryl Pell of the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association (MIPA) said her organization has made it a priority to find a new sponsor for the fall.

Pell said the previous piece of legislation ran into problems because it was too broad and tried to insure student freedom on everything from the newspaper to T-shirts to drama productions.

“We’re going after just a publications policy instead,” Pell said.

MIPA is sending a draft proposal to Rep. Nick Ciaramitaro (D-Roseville), a potential sponsor.

The Student Freedom of Expression Act in Nebraska went through committee hearings in the spring and was voted out 5-1. At the beginning of the next session in January, the bill can be scheduled for the first stage of debate on the House floor.

An aide to state Sen. Chris Beutler, the bill’s sponsor, said the debate in the committee hearing centered on the potential for “nastiness” in publications given too little supervision.

In 1995, a similar bill also passed out of committee but never made it onto the floor for debate at the next session.


Fall 1997, reports