Washington state New Voices legislation dies in House Education Committee

WASHINGTON — Efforts to pass New Voices legislation in Washington state will have to wait until the next legislative cycle after House Education Committee members chose Tuesday not to take action on the current bill.

Despite overwhelming positive testimony on the legislation during its public hearing in the committee on March 16, the committee declined to advance the bill to the House floor, killing its chances for passage this session.

Kathy Schrier, director of the Washington Journalism Education Association, said something likely happened behind the scenes that caused the bill to not make it out of committee.

“I talked to [bill sponsor Sen.] Joe Fain and I think there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on that you don’t know,” she said. “Basically what it boils down to is that we did not have a champion pushing for the bill in the House.”

Similar legislation made it through the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee last year before being held up in the Rules Committee. The current bill passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support on March 2.

Schrier said trying to push this bill through the House, where there wasn’t a member on the committee who was passionate about the legislation and could push it through any questions that came up turned out to be a detriment.

“Every time we get knocked down we learn something new,” she said. ”It’s one of those hard lessons to learn, but I certainly know what I’m going to do differently next time.”

A question came up during House committee meetings about student liability for editorial decisions, Schrier said, as the bill explicitly gave administrators, but not students, liability protection.

“That’s a moot point because people do not historically sue students for content decisions,” she said. “That was the issue, apparently. Of course, none of us are there to jump in and say ‘no, that’s not a good reason.’ With all the other things [the committee] had to vote on ... it didn’t come up for a vote. [The question] put enough doubt in people’s minds.”

Schrier said in talking to Fain, he did indicate that he would like to re-introduce the bill in the next legislative session, and the next time around they would pay more attention to getting support in both chambers.

“We’re going to keep trying here,” Schrier said. “Right now we’re feeling pretty wounded, but we’ve really got a lot of determination and we’re getting very experienced at getting back in there and fighting the good fight.”

Despite the bill’s failure, Schrier said she was inspired by the amount of engagement the bill saw from student journalists and advisers.

“If I can look at it pragmatically, it’s an amazing lesson that those kids have learned. They were received so warmly and did such a great job,” she said. “Even with that, things can go south. It’s life. This is how life is sometimes– it sucks.”

SPLC staff writer Conner Mitchell can be reached by email or (202) 974-6318

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