On Tuesday, March 8, 2016, Sen. Rick Jones (R) introduced the “student free press and civics readiness act” otherwise known as Senate Bill No. 848, along with Patrick Colbeck (R), Tom Casperson (R) and Steve Bieda (D). The Senate Judiciary Committee will “likely” hear testimony on the bill on March 22. If the Judiciary Committee favorably reports on the bill, it will head to the full senate for a vote, then a similar process in the House, and finally to Gov. Snyder’s desk for approval.
MIPA Director Jeremy Steele of Michigan State University said in an email interview that he believes the bill sets an easy standard for school officials and student journalists to understand.
“It respects the responsibility of school administrators to protect students from harm while empowering young people to learn about core constitutional values by practicing journalism in their public schools.”
Steele said he does not believe it is always the intention of school officials to censor students first amendment rights, since student press law is “complicated.”
“Unfortunately, too often we see school officials make the wrong decision and misinterpret the case law. That leads to censorship of student journalism for inappropriate reasons.”
[pullquote]Description of the bill reads: “A bill to provide protection for freedom of expression for student journalists in public schools and institutions of higher education.”[/pullquote]
Steele said MIPA is working hard to lead a coalition of organizations working to ensure the passage of this bill.
“MIPA is helping to lead a group of journalism–and education–related organizations advocating for the passage of this legislation. The movement is inspired by a successful effort in North Dakota last year to pass similar a measure to protect student journalist at public schools and colleges from unwarranted censorship.”
The bill makes mention of work that would not be protected under the bill, including work that is “libelous or slanderous; constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy; violates federal or state law; or incites students so as to create a clear and present danger that they may commit an unlawful act, violate school or state board of education policies, or materially and substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school or public institution or higher education.”
“In those cases, school officials could step in and legally block that kind of inappropriate or illegal content,” Steele said.
Co-sponsor of the bill Senator Patrick Colbeck (R) said in an email interview that he “absolutely” believes journalistic censorship is a bipartisan issue.
“Both Republicans and Democrats took oaths to support the Constitution and the 1st Amendment protections related to freedom of the press,” Colbeck said.
Senator Steve Bieda (D) of Macomb county stated in an email that he believes bipartisan support will make the bill easier to take up.
“I was interested in the bill as a very strong supporter of the 1st Amendment and a very active and vocal supporter of openness in government. An active press is essential in a free country.”
Colbeck said he believes the bill adequately protects student journalists.
“I believe that the bill will go a long way towards managing expectations of student journalists and protecting them from untoward school policies designed to restrict their free speech.”
By Dylan Grosser