A Washington state bill to protect student press freedom failed to earn a vote before the legislative session ended on April 13, but not before similar bills appeared in legislatures across the country. Student-press bills await action in three other states: Oregon, Illinois and Michigan.
Six states currently offer full First Amendment protection to high school journalists in public schools: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Kansas, Iowa and Massachusetts. California also provides freedom for the college press at both public and private institutions.
In 2005, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Hosty v. Carter that administrators can censor the college press. The decision extended the 1988 Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that high school administrators could censor school-sponsored publications if there was an educational interest prompting them to do so.
The Washington bill (H.B. 1307) would have protected student journalists in public high schools and colleges and would have made Washington the first state to offer protection for both in one bill. (California has two separate laws.) Introduced by Democratic Rep. Dave Upthegrove in January, the bill also offered journalism teachers protection from wrongful discipline or termination.
H.B. 1307 passed in the House of Representatives and was sent to the Senate judiciary committee. The committee passed it to the floor after adding an amendment that removed the high school protection from the bill. The bill was not given a Senate floor vote before the end of the legislative session.
"I always try to look at the positive in things," Upthegrove told the Student Press Law Center. "One positive thing is we've started a movement in Washington state that is going to continue after this year. Next year, we'll be back. We've started a large coalition in this state against the abuse of school administrators (against student publications). This is just the beginning."
A similar bill is currently in the Oregon House of Representatives. H.B. 3279 would offer the same protections to both high school and college journalists as the Washington bill, after which it was modeled. The bill has drawn criticism because it allows for students to file civil lawsuits if they are not allowed to have a free press. H.B. 3279 is being debated in the judiciary committee.
In Illinois, the College Campus Press Act (S.B. 0729) provides for freedom of the press at state public colleges and universities. The bill, introduced by state Senator Susan Garrett, passed unanimously in the Senate and is now being debated in the House.
Hosty v. Carter began at Governors State University in University Park, Ill., when a dean forced the newspaper to stop publishing after several articles criticizing the administration were published in 2001.
Michigan legislators are currently debating a bill to protect high school journalists. S.B. 352 was introduced by state Sen. Michael Switalski on March 15 and referred to the education committee. Michigan has had a series of similar bills since 1991, though none has become law. Most recently, Switalski introduced the same bill in 2005, where it stayed in committee until the legislative season ended.