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Kentucky Legislator Introduces Two Student Rights Bills

By January 6, 2017

If Kentucky state Rep. Wesley Morgan has anything to say about it, students at public institutions of higher education in the Bluegrass State will soon enjoy important new rights. That’s because earlier this week, the representative introduced two fantastic pieces of legislation.

The first bill, the Student and Administration Equality Act, HB 126, would ensure that students facing potentially lengthy suspensions or expulsions from campus have the right to hire lawyers for representation during campus proceedings. Similar legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in North Carolina and North Dakota. The right to counsel is also enjoyed by students at public colleges in Tennessee and Oregon through their respective Administrative Procedures Acts, which apply to contested cases before most state agencies.

The second bill introduced by Representative Morgan, the Campus Free Expression Act (CAFE), HB 127, would prohibit schools from imposing misleadingly-named “free speech zones,” which quarantine expressive activities to just a few areas on campus. Instead, CAFE provides that:

An institution may maintain and enforce reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on an expressive activity in an outdoor area of the institution’s campus, if the restrictions: (a) Are narrowly tailored; (b) Are based on published, content-neutral, and viewpoint-neutral criteria; and (c) Provide for ample alternative means of expression.

Under this legislation, which is similar to laws passed in Virginia, Missouri, and Arizona, a university would need to adopt narrowly tailored restrictions on expressive activities, instead of imposing blanket bans, with a few exceptions. For example, if CAFE were passed, an institution could still prohibit amplified sound outside of the library, but they could not cite the need for quiet in the library to justify barring the distribution of literature or protests in a quad two blocks away. Restrictions on campus speech would have to be the exception—not the rule.

FIRE is thrilled that Representative Morgan has introduced these bills. We look forward to supporting them and hope his colleagues in the legislature will as well. Students in Kentucky will benefit greatly when these bills become law.