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Legislation to ban school censorship on the cusp of approval in Washington state

Leftist Democrat who killed it last time is gone

Washington is the last state on the West Coast that lets schools censor student journalists for any reason.

The deep-blue state is behind several red states that protect student journalists from prior review and their faculty advisers from retaliation, as well as blue states that followed their lead.

But the Evergreen State is closer than ever to finally treating student journalists as journalists, with the House overwhelmingly approving a so-called New Voices bill in the waning minutes of its legislative session Friday night.

The Student Press Law Center reports the 91-6 vote approved a slightly modified bill whose new “intent section … did not change its meaning,” and was not substantively different than the earlier Senate-passed version.

Supporters expect the new bill to pass the Senate and be signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee:

The bill ensures First Amendment protections for student journalists to be free from school censorship, something that was muddied in 1988 after the Supreme Court’s Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier decision.

Kathy Schrier, the executive director of the Washington Journalism Education Association, said the vote was “amazing,” particularly considering how close it came to the deadline.

The bill received accolades from both Democrats and Republicans, and it’s being shepherded by a Senate Republican from a district between uber-leftist Seattle and Tacoma, Joe Fain.

MORE: Leftist Democrat kills anti-censorship bill

His Auburn colleague in the House, Rep. Drew Stokesbary, said some Republicans wished the bill did  “a little bit more” to protect free speech in college, not just high school:

“I think teaching students about the importance of free speech is tremendously important, but also teaching them about the responsibilities that the First Amendment brings to us all is important,” he said. “The First Amendment is only as important as those of us who carry it on.”

The likely passage of the New Voices bill caps years of advocacy by an 18-year-old student journalist, The Seattle Times reported before Friday’s vote:

Mariah Valles skipped her classes at Central Washington University, drove through Snoqualmie Pass and headed west to Olympia.

By 8 a.m. on Valentine’s Day, she was at the state Capitol building, ready to testify in front of lawmakers for the third time in two years.

“I’m here to tell you one thing: Censored news is wrong,” she told the House Judiciary committee.

MORE: Arizona governor vetoes popular anti-censorship bill

Sen. Fain sponsored the bill after Auburn student journalists, who aren’t subject to prior review from administrators, lobbied him to expand those protections statewide.

Fain was impressed that the students covered “complex issues” as a result of that freedom to investigate and report, and he pledges that he’ll keep introducing the bill until a governor signs it:

“The most impactful contribution to this legislation has been the students,” said Fain, a former vice-chair for the Senate’s Early Learning and K-12 Education committee. ”I think it’s pretty clear that as students are finding their voices in other parts of the country, there’s never been a more important time to give them the forum and freedom.”

Administrators are still inventing excuses to keep censoring students, though.

Gary Kipp, executive director of the Association of Washington School Principals, said his members want to protect students on the young end of high school from making poor choices: “They’re not always envisioning the consequences of what people say.”

A similar bill was killed two years ago by a suburban Seattle Democrat, Rosemary McAuliffe, who resigned her seat last year to run for city council. The original bill was conceived by a community college student in 2006, who approached his local lawmaker, according to the Times.

Read the SPLC and Times stories.

MORE: Indiana GOP kills free-speech protections for students

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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