By NICHOLAS TRUJILLO
An anti-censorship bill that could effectively nullify a famous court case that allows educational institutions the last word on student publications is working through the state Senate after passing unanimously at a hearing before the Senate Education Committee Feb. 2 in Phoenix.
Senate Bill 1384 was sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Yee (R, District 20) and was passed on to the senate floor. If it passes there, it will be sent to Gov. Doug Ducey, who can either sign or veto the bill.
SB 1384 is a response to the three-decade old Hazelwood v. Khuliemer case, where a St. Louis high school newspaper attempted to publish stories about divorce and teen pregnancy. The administration said that the stories would be inappropriate.
The case was taken to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in the students favor. However, after being taken to the Supreme Court, it was found that the school did have the power to censor the paper under certain circumstances.
At the hearing before the education committee, six students and two instructors gave testimony, and many more journalists attended.
“If it actually passes into law it’ll have significant implications for us,” said Sam Gross, editor in chief of the Daily Wildcat. “Basically the bill makes it harder to argue against us.”
Outlined in the bill are nine amendments to be added. One stipulates student journalists and media outlets will not be subject to prior restraint, even if they are supported financially by an educational facility.
If passed, SB 1384 would effectively overrule Hazelwood v. Khuliemer by freeing students of censorship by a school’s administration, even if the material were deemed taboo.
The bill does enforce four instances where students will not be protected: libel, unwarranted invasion of privacy, violating federal or state law or inciting students to break the law.
Specifically, if any of the four instances occur, the bill states, “the public school, community college or university has the burden of providing lawful justification without unique delay.”
Though passed unanimously, the bill did meet some criticism. Sen. Steve Smith (R, District 11) had a problem with SB 1384’s intention. Smith raised the possibility of a student falling at a stadium during a football game and the paper publishing a cartoon of it.
“We just want to make sure we are not green lighting any inappropriate stuff for high school kids,” Smith said. “A problem for some is not a problem for all.”
Smith pointed out that the potential cartoon would not be libelous or slanderous, but it would be inappropriate.
Yee countered, saying “we need to rely on the professionalism of our advisers. They’ve been journalism advisers for years and years and they wouldn’t have gotten there with inappropriate cartoons.”
While SB 1384 grants protection from censorship it also grants protection from disciplining a student-journalist for acting in accordance with the bill.
James Bourland, adviser for Tucson High Magnet School’s Cactus Chronicle, would be affected along with his student-journalists.
The bill grants protection to the adviser from being fired, reassigned or transferred if the adviser is acting to protect the student in accordance with the bill.
“What this would do is basically give the reporters the right to do their jobs, which is report the actual news,” Bourland said. “It would skip over those puff pieces, now we can actually be journalists.”
In the end, Bourland contends the spirit of SB 1384 is a long time coming. “It seems like, it’s pretty good that student journalist will be given the rights they should already have.”
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