Two states defeat anti-Hazelwoodbills

Legislation to protect student expression dies in Alabama, Nebraska

Alabama in April after the bill's sponsor withdrew it from consideration. Alabama was the only state where a student free-expression bill was introduced this spring.

Cathy McCandless, a student newspaper adviser and supporter of the bill, said the legislation's sponsor, Rep. Sue Schmitz, D-Toney, withdrew the bill because other legislators wanted to add amendments that would have destroyed its intent.

According to McCandless, one legislator introduced an amendment that would have changed the wording of a section of the bill from stating that no student publications may be subject to prior review by school administrators to stating that all publications may be subject to prior review.

"I'm disappointed, but I'm not surprised," McCandless said in reference to the bill's demise. "We know now who our opposition is in the House."

The House Education Committee had unanimously approved HB 573 in March.

McCandless, who spoke before the committee in favor of the bill, teaches at Sparkman High School in Harvest -- the same school where Schmitz teaches government several times a week. McCandless said she asked Schmitz, who served as newspaper adviser until 1992, to sponsor the legislation.

"At a lot of schools in Alabama, I think the students are [being] denied freedom of expression," McCandless said. "We don't particularly have that problem here at Sparkman, but there are other schools [where] I know there are problems, and I think it's important. It's important to me and important to the students."

The fight for a student free-expression bill is not over, McCandless said.

"As long as I live in Alabama, and as long as I have a sponsor in the House, I will push this bill," she said.

In Nebraska, a student free-expression bill held over from last year's legislative session died in January after it failed to garner the 25 votes necessary for it to advance.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Chris Beutler, D-Lincoln, would have encouraged, but not required, public school boards to adopt student freedom of expression codes for school-sponsored publications.

Under the legislation, school boards would have been allowed to set their own policies for what could appear in school-sponsored publications, such as student newspapers or yearbooks. School boards that did not adopt their own policies would have been required to follow the publications policy set by the bill.

Seventeen senators voted to advance LB 182 to the legislature's select file, with 23 against. If the bill had advanced, it would have been debated again and then put to a final vote.

John Bender, a professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and a supporter of the bill, said the legislation was caught between two factions: those opposed to any limitation on a school administrator's discretion as to what could be printed in a school-sponsored publication and those concerned that the bill's failure to force local school boards to adopt free-expression codes would cause them to enact even more restrictive policies.

"Between those two extremes, there was not much ground for us to stand on," Bender said, adding that he was unsure whether similar legislation would be introduced in Nebraska next year.

In Oregon, a principal's decision to censor the school newspaper provoked a campaign by students at Brookings-Harbor High School to pass a state law protecting students' freedom of expression.

Supporters of the legislation want to introduce a bill when the legislature convenes next year.

Student free-press supporters in Washington are also working to pass legislation protecting student free expression in school-sponsored publications. They plan to introduce a bill when the legislature meets next year.    

reports, Spring 2000