Proposed Calif. Bills Address Student Press Freedom

By March 16, 2006

Colin Sharkey, a program officer with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, reported in an entry on Phi Beta Cons, a higher education blog for the National Review, that two bills have been proposed in California that deal exclusively with the student press. The first, AB 2612, will make it an offense to steal more than five copies of a free publication, offering some hope to student journalists whose papers have mysteriously gone “missing.”

The second bill, AB 2581, addresses California’s Leonard Law, which extends First Amendment rights to students at private colleges. According to Sharkey’s piece, AB 2581<

bans universities from censoring student press and protects the First Amendment rights of college journalists. AB 2581 adds “and the student press” to California’s Leonard Law, which protects student speech from laws on a college campus if the speech is protected by the First Amendment off the campus. This would be a tremendous precedent to set nationwide.

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Hosty v. Carter, student papers fear that their independence could be in jeopardy. Even though Hosty applies only to the Seventh Circuit, and California is in the Ninth Circuit, newspaper editors in California have expressed their worries about what the decision implies for student papers at all public institutions, and fear that this decision is part of a trend that seeks to control student press. The proposed amendment to the Leonard Law would indeed be a step toward fending off institutional encroachments upon student newspapers’ independence.