Senate committee tentatively okays New Voices press freedom act

            The Senate Judiciary Committee voted tentatively Tuesday to approve a bill giving students enhanced legal protection against school censorship, but the legislation must return to the committee next week where changes may be made.

            The measure passed on a 7-0 vote after its proponents assured they committee they’d work with lobbyists for school principals and superintendents toward reaching a compromise.


            House Bill 5902 has already passed the House unanimously. It would blunt the impact of the Supreme Court’s 1988 ruling in Hazelwood School District v. Kulhmeier that gave schools broad censorship authority over journalistic publications produced as part of school curriculum.

            The bill, sponsored by Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, is being handled in the Senate by Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Skokie.

            During Tuesday’s hearing, Biss ran into skeptical questioning particularly from Republican senators, who questioned why the bill was needed and whether it would interfere with schools’ ability to manage.

            Sen. Chris Nybo, R-Lombard, pointed sympathetically to the recent case of an Illinois principal who threatened to cancel the journalism program and shutter the newspaper after students published an article critical of a change in the starting time of the school day. “In my mind,” Nybo said, “they’re students first and journalists second.”

            The committee chairman, Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, said he was troubled by the use of vague terms such as “obscene” to characterize the types of journalistic speech that schools would retain the authority to prevent

            Ultimately, the committee members – fatigued after a day-long Senate floor debate over a contentious school funding issue – agreed to pass the bill, but asked Biss to entertain amendments to address the concerns they’d raised. Biss said he plans to bring the measure back next week.

            The League of Women Voters of Illinois, the Illinois Library Association, the ACLU of Illinois and many other educational and civil-rights organizations filed statements with the committee supporting the bill

            Last month, Maryland became the ninth state to enact a statute giving heightened legal protection to student journalists, following the lead of North Dakota, which spawned the nationwide New Voices movement that has since spread to at least 19 other states.

Tagged: First Amendment, First Amendment, first-amendment, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, Illinois legislature, new voices, recent-news, Sen. Daniel Biss