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California governor signs college student press freedom bill
Law passed in the wake of the Hosty v. Carter decision is the first of its kind in the country
August 28, 2006

CALIFORNIA - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today signed a bill into law that would explicitly prohibit prior restraint and other forms of censorship of the college press.

The bill's sponsor, assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, said in a press release the legislation makes California the first state in the nation to specifically prohibit censorship of college student newspapers.

"College journalists deserve the same protections as any other journalist," Yee said. "Having true freedom of the press is essential on college campuses and it is a fundamental part of a young journalists training for the real world. Allowing a school administration to censor is contrary to the democratic process and the ability of a student newspaper to serve as the watchdog and bring sunshine to the actions of school administrators."

The bill passed the state Senate by a 31-2 vote on August 10 and was unanimously approved by the California Assembly in May.

The free-press bill was drafted in response to the Hosty v. Carter decision out of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said Jim Ewert, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, a supporter of the bill.

The appeals court decision held that the Supreme Court's 1988 Hazelwood decision limiting high school student free expression rights could extend to college and university campuses in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in February not to hear the Hosty case, letting stand the June 2005 decision out of the 7th Circuit.

Ten days after the 7th Circuit decision, the general counsel for the California State University system sent a memo to university presidents saying the Hosty decision could impact California.

"[T]he case appears to signal that CSU campuses may have more latitude than previously believed to censor the content of subsidized student newspapers, provided that there is an established practice of regularized content review and approval for pedagogical purposes," wrote CSU general counsel Christine Helwick at that time.

Although the 7th Circuit's ruling is only applicable in the three Midwestern states covered by the appeals court, Ewert said the memo raised some concerns amongst student press advocates.

Ewert said he is thrilled with the governor's decision to sign the legislation.

"This law sends a very strong message to administrators that the student press is just as deserving of strong free press protection as professional media," said Ewert.

-by Evan Mayor, SPLC staff writer

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