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March 24, 2021 | View PDF

Sometimes life in the State Legislatures is like searching for gold only to die without anything to show for your efforts. Last week a bill came up in the Legislature that several State Senator believe is a bad bill. The bill was LB88, a bill designed to protect student journalists. Believing that we could muster enough votes to kill the bill, we set out to filibuster the bill. Filibustering a bill on General File requires the opponents of the bill to talk for eight hours, and that is exactly what we did. We talked for eight long hours only to lose by one vote at the end of the debate. LB88 advanced to Select File.

So, why would so many Senators waste eight long hours of their lives trying to kill a bill only to lose the vote in the end? This does not happen unless those opposing the bill care passionately about defeating the bill. There are many reasons why this bill stirs the passions of conservative Senators like me, so today I would like to explain what some of those reasons are.

First, LB88 allows student journalists to make decisions about the “advertising content” of the school newspaper. This means that student journalists would have the freedom to allow anyone to advertise in the school newspaper. Many parents, for example, would object to allowing Planned Parenthood to advertise in the local high school newspaper, but under LB88 nobody would be able to stop them. While we are at it, how would you feel if the KKK ran an ad in your student’s high school newspaper? For this reason, school teachers and administrators need to have some control over what gets printed.

Second, LB88 confuses freedom of speech with freedom of the press. The bill states explicitly that “a student journalist has the right to exercise freedom of speech and freedom of the press in school-sponsored media.” When it comes to publishing a newspaper, freedom of the press applies, but not freedom of speech. The reason is that school newspapers are not public forums. Freedom of speech would only apply if the student newspaper was declared to be a public forum. Well, that’s exactly what LB88 attempts to do.

LB88 changes school newspapers to public forums. The bill states explicitly that, “All school-sponsored media are deemed to be public forums.” By making this most important fundamental change, the door to free speech is flung wide open. This makes the high school newspaper no different than Facebook or Twitter, where students can say anything they want.

High school students are just that – they are students, not journalists. In order to become a morally responsible journalist, they must be taught, and that process usually begins in high school. LB88 would effectively turn the tables on educators, making it impossible for them to teach what good journalism looks like.

Finally, LB88 would put an end to many high school newspapers. Here’s why: Minors cannot be sued, but school districts and educators can be sued. Once we allow high school students to write like they do on Facebook and Twitter, schools will be sued. Consequently, LB88 presents a whole new set of liability threats to school boards. No school board in their right mind would allow a high school newspaper to go to print with this kind of a liability threat looming over them. For this reason, I believe LB88 would necessarily lead to the death of the high school newspaper. Because I care passionately about keeping high school newspapers active and alive, I participated in the filibuster and voted against LB88.

 

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