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‘New Voices’ legislation moves to governor’s desk in Vermont

A bill to protect student journalists in public K-12 schools and colleges passed both chambers of Vermont’s legislature last week, and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Phil Scott.

House Bill 513, which passed unanimously with bipartisan support, is part of the Student Press Law Center’s New Voices campaign, an ongoing effort to pass student free press legislation in every state.

“A free student press is vital to the health of any college and university,” said FIRE’s Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn. “It’s wonderful to see lawmakers pass legislation to ensure that student journalists at Vermont’s public educational institutions will operate without administrative interference.”

When Scott signs the Vermont bill into law, it will further define and protect a student journalist’s rights while writing for school-sponsored media at public institutions throughout the state. This bill will protect student journalists from prior restraint, censorship by administrators, and “undue delays” in publishing without legal justifications. The law will also shield media or faculty advisors from punishment for taking reasonable and appropriate action to protect a student journalist’s rights as laid out in the bill.

The protections included in the bill are unfortunately needed in light of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit’s 2005 opinion in Hosty v. Carter, which applied K-12 legal standards on administrative control over student media to college student journalists.

If the bill becomes law, Vermont will join North Dakota, Illinois, and Maryland, which have enacted similar versions of the New Voices legislation.

As reported by the Student Press Law Center, the language in House Bill 513 protecting students’ rights directly was imported from a different bill, Senate Bill 18, which cleared the Senate but stalled in the other chamber earlier in the session. That bill was introduced in January by Sen. Jeanette White, and sponsored by Sens. Philip Baruth and Becca Balint, chair and vice chair of the Senate Committee on Education, respectively.

Currently, bills with similar protections for student journalists are under consideration in Arizona, Missouri, Nevada, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington. FIRE hopes that these states follow Vermont’s lead by passing these bills to protect student journalists as they do their important work on college campuses and K-12 schools.

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