Freedom of Information Award to California State Senator Leland Yee

October 17, 2008

The California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) has chosen California State Senator Leland Yee as the recipient of the group’s Freedom of Information Award. In awarding Yee, CNPA General Counsel Tom Newton stated:

Senator Yee has been a true friend of the First Amendment, the student press, the public’s right to know and the newspaper industry. Through Senator Yee’s legislative efforts, he has solidified California as the clear leader in the nation on protecting student journalists from censorship and prior restraint.

A central reason for Yee’s nomination is his authorship of Senate Bill 1370, designed to shield journalism teachers and student newspaper advisors at both the high school and college levels from punishment for content in student newspapers. Signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger late last month, the Bill "protects high school and college teachers and other employees from retaliation by administrators as a result of student speech, which most often happens when a journalism advisor or professor is disciplined for content in a student newspaper." FIRE followed the progress of the bill this year here, here, here, and here.

Yee has long been a champion of students’ free press rights. In 2006, Yee introduced Assembly Bill 2581, which specifically prohibited censorship of the student press at California’s colleges and universities. Yee authored the bill (subsequently signed into law) in response to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit’s ruling in Hosty v. Carter, a disastrous opinion for the student press which held that college administrators may effectively censor student publications without personal liability. Although California is in the Ninth Circuit, Yee sought to stop California courts from considering Hosty as influential precedent before they started after the Supreme Court failed to grant certiorari to an appeal of the Seventh Circuit’s ruling. FIRE issued a policy statement condemning the Seventh Circuit’s ruling and joined an amicus brief to the Supreme Court arguing for grant of certiorari.

The award ceremony will take place on October 25 in Universal City.