Problematic Arizona campus free speech bill would allow colleges to restrict students’ rights
Last month, I wrote about HB 2563, a campus free speech bill pending in Arizona, highlighting both the promising and problematic provisions of the bill. After passing both the Arizona House of Representatives and the Senate, the bill went to conference committee, where elected officials from both chambers worked to reconcile small differences in the language passed by both chambers. After emerging from conference committee, some of the problematic language I discussed still exists, and the conference committee introduced a new, fatal error to a provision about a university or college’s ability to restrict student expression.
The original bill language read:
A university or community college shall not restrict a student’s right to speak, including verbal speech, holding a sign or distributing fliers or other materials, in a public forum. [Emphasis added.]
Combined with subsequent language in the bill describing the way universities can implement reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions, the original provision was perfectly appropriate.
However, after emerging from conference committee, that language now reads:
A university or community college may restrict a student’s right to speak, including verbal speech, holding a sign or distributing fliers or other materials, in a public forum. [Emphasis added.]
This language must never become law. This small but crucial error could have a profound impact on student expression on campuses across Arizona. The bill’s new language would allow student speech rights to be routinely violated.
As I mentioned in my previous article about the bill, the Arizona legislature has already passed a law banning public colleges and universities from maintaining “free speech zones.”
Because of the legislature’s track record of protecting student expression, this may be a drafting error in conference committee.
Regardless of whether this provision was changed intentionally or in error, this bill must not be passed by the legislature and must not be signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey. The legislature should either present Gov. Ducey with a clean bill this session, or wait until next legislative session. Whichever option the legislature decides, FIRE stands ready to assist Arizona legislators to carefully craft a bill providing for robust free speech protections for college students in the state.