Student free speech bill dies in Washington Legislature

by A. Matthew Deal, Student Press Law Center

The state Senate's Judiciary Committee will not hold a hearing on a bill created to protect public high school and college journalists from censorship, effectively ending its chances of being passed this session.

Brian Schraum, who has helped lead efforts to see a student free-expression bill signed into law, acknowledged that, while he was not surprised, he was disappointed. In a recent e-mail to proponents of the bill Schraum expressed his dismay that "passionate students, educators, and journalists who support this bill, didn't have the opportunity to speak in Olympia again."

"We knew it was an uphill battle since it was the same people voting on the issue," Schraum told the Student Press Law Center

Sen. Joe McDermott (D-Seattle) sponsored SB6449, which would have made student editors responsible for all content in school-sponsored media at public high schools and colleges, even if the publications were school-funded or operated as part of a class. The bill prevented colleges from instituting mandatory prior review of student publications. At the high school level, it would have regulated the conditions under which administrators could censor student media outlets.

The proposal was practically identical to a bill proposed last year by Rep. Dave Upthegrove (D-Des Moines). That bill passed in the Washington House of Representatives. But it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee only after sponsors agreed to remove the protections for high school journalists. Even with that concession, the bill failed to get a vote before the full Senate. Supporters hoped they might have more luck this year by starting in the Senate, even though the chamber's membership has changed little since last year.

Schraum also is the coordinator for the Washington Coalition for Responsible Student Expression, an organization he helped form composed of 18 groups that support the bill. The coalition includes groups such as the Journalism Education Association, media groups like the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, and civil liberties organizations, including the SPLC.

Kathy Schrier of the Washington Journalism Education Association, a member group of the coalition, said she felt supporters have made progress.

"One of the groups that was very much against us last time, that is the Association of Washington School Principals, was much more reserved because I believe we've done a good job of helping them understand that the bill really isn't a threat to school administrators," Schrier said.

Jocelyn McCabe, communications director for the Association of Washington School Principals said it would be "premature" to comment on the bill's apparent death.

Schrier said the coalition will try to advance the bill again next year, when committee memberships will change following this year's elections.

"We have had a few stumbling blocks, but I think we can get past those," Schrier said.

Schraum, who graduated from Washington State University in December, believes that the law will be passed eventually.

"I think it is safe to say you haven't heard the last from Washington State on this issue," Schraum said.

article originally published at http://www.splc.org/newsflash.asp?id=1677&year=.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey