Legislation to protect college student journalists introduced in Nebraska and Virginia

January 18, 2019

As legislatures across the country go back into session, FIRE is thrilled to see bills protecting college student journalists have been introduced in both Nebraska and Virginia.

Similar bills, commonly referred to as “New Voices” legislation, are variations of model legislation from a campaign launched by the Student Press Law Center. Washington, Nevada, North Dakota, Maryland, and Vermont are some of the states that have implemented these protections in order to codify students’ rights.

The basis of students’ concerns manifest from case-law rulings. In 1988’s Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school administrators in the K-12 setting have the authority to censor school-sponsored publications if they have “legitimate pedagogical reasons” for doing so. College administrators have historically not enjoyed the same authority to subject the work of student journalists — who are typically adults — to the prior review authorized in Hazelwood. Unfortunately, Hosty v. Carter, a 2005 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, extended the authority of college administrators to subject student journalists writing for publications at public colleges to similar prior review. The Seventh Circuit covers Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, but FIRE has raised concerns that the opinion’s influence could spread further.

The New Voices Act specifically prevents the spread of the Hosty decision to other circuits and defends the critical freedom of student press to explore, write, and investigate on a college campus. Thus far, fourteen states — either in the K-12 context, higher ed, or both — have passed legislation to ensure student media is free and independent from administrative control or mandated review that has been wielded against their students for inconvenient coverage and commentary.  

FIRE is pleased to see ‘New Voices’ legislation is still a priority in state legislatures, specifically those in Nebraska and Virginia. We will keep you up to date on the progress of these bills and report as other states pursue these important statutory protections.