Anti-Hazelwood legislation continues to face uphill battle

Bills in Connecticut, Missouri and Illinois die

Arlington, VA -- Three bills designed to protect the high school student press from censorship died this year in Connecticut, Missouri and Illinois. A similar bill introduced in Nebraska is being held over until next year.

In Connecticut, legislation intended to protect the freedom of the high school student press died after supporters rejected a watered-down version of the bill. The House never voted on the revised version before it adjourned in June.

The original legislation, sponsored by Reps. Thomasina Clemons, D-Vernon, and Patrick J. Flaherty, D-Coventry, would have prohibited censorship of the student press in Connecticut public schools except to assure that expression is not libelous, slanderous or in violation of state law.

The legislation was rewritten, however, to encourage - instead of require - each board of education to adopt its own publication code promoting free speech.

Stratos Pahis, a Connecticut high school student who helped author the original legislation, said he did not support the revised version of the bill because it failed to require school boards to implement free press codes.

"We would basically have a law that said schools could do whatever they want, and that's worse than no law at all," Pahis said.

But he said he plans to ask Clemons to reintroduce the legislation next fall.

"We've gotten a lot of support," Pahis said, adding that he expects to garner an even larger base of support next year.

Legislation to adopt a statewide freedom of expression act in Nebraska is being held over until next year.

The original bill, introduced by Sen. Chris Beutler, D-Lincoln, would have required school boards in the state to implement freedom of expression codes for student publications. But the legislature's education committee added an amendment to the bill that was similar to the revised version of Connecticut's student press bill, encouraging, rather than requiring, school boards to adopt freedom of expression codes.

Unlike the proponents of the Connecticut bill, however, backers of the Nebraskan legislation still supported the revised version of their bill.

"It doesn't do what we wanted it to do, but it's better than what we have right now," said supporter Kathy Stockham, president of the Nebraska High School Press Association.

Stockham said she plans to support the amended legislation when it is reintroduced next year, adding that she is optimistic that the legislature will pass the bill.

"We have strong support for it on the committee," Stockham said. "There are some strong voices for it."

In Missouri, a freedom of expression bill died in May after the House judiciary committee chair refused to permit a hearing on it.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Joan Bray, D-University City, would have limited the liability of school administrators for student expression to situations in which they interfered with the expression by censoring or altering an article, for example.

But the legislation was never voted on.

"We didn't even get a hearing for House Bill 245," said supporter Bill Hankins, a journalism adviser at Oak Park High School in Kansas City. "We were totally shut out. The chair wouldn't even put it on the agenda to be heard. It just died."

Hankins, who is also a member of the Missouri Journalism Education Association, said it is unlikely the legislation will be reintroduced next year.

"We just don't feel like the Missouri legislature is ever going to come around," Hankins said. "We've been fighting this battle for eight years."

Instead, Hankins said supporters of free student expression are working to arrange a meeting with journalism advisers and the state's commissioner of education to possibly establish a publication code protecting student speech through the state department of education.

A bill in Illinois to protect student expression died in April after amendments to it dampened the enthusiasm of many of its supporters.

Although the original version of the bill passed the House by a vote of 110-5, last-minute changes to it gave principals more censorship power and deleted advertising content from the law's protections.

Supporters said the bill will not be reintroduced until 2001.

After a bill designed to protect student expression died last fall, Michigan Rep. Lynne Martinez, D-Lansing, said she would reintroduce the legislation when the House convened in January. Martinez never introduced the bill, however, because she said she sponsored too many other bills and House regulations prevented her from introducing another. But Martinez said she will reintroduce the bill in the fall.

censorship, Connecticut, Hazelwood, Illinois, Missouri, news