Nebraska lawmakers kill student journalist protection bill after filibuster

Student journalism bill fails
Student journalism bill fails
Published: Apr. 14, 2021 at 9:41 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A bill to give free-speech protections to student journalists and their advisors failed Wednesday in Nebraska’s Unicameral.

The vote came hours into the debate.

At its most basic, the bill would have extended journalists’ rights to student journalists as well. But after four hours of debate, it came up a few votes short of moving forward.

Last fall, Sophia Walsh, a student at North Platte High School, researched and wrote a story for the student newspaper about a stolen Confederate flag. It never ran in the school paper — she said the school kept putting up roadblocks.

So she took it to the local newspaper, and it published the story.

“As long as it wasn’t published at the school, it’s not their property, and I can take it somewhere else, and I did,” she said.

LB 88 dominated the discussion at the state Legislature on Wednesday to keep student journalists from being censored by school administrators and from the protections extended to professional members of the media.

Opponents argued it would create a chilling effect.

“This bill is not necessary,” said State Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte. “It goes down the wrong road, and grays the areas between our Constutional right, and we all know that.”

State Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings said it would remove school oversight.

“I would ask that the superintendents and patrons of the schools pay attention for the potential for them to lose supervision over these publications,” he said.

State Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln sponsored the bill after numerous incidents where Nebraska high school administrators censored student newspaper articles they deemed too controversial or unflattering.

“In the states that have done this — they are all around us — newspapers haven’t shut down. Yearbooks are still there. There’s still supervisors, and there still will be supervisors under my bill,” he said.

But the bill would not survive Wednesday’s filibuster, and it came three votes short of ending the debate. Lawmakers voted 30-17 to overcome a filibuster by opponents but needed 33 “yes” votes.

“These people think that children under 18 are responsible enough to go to court without an attorney representing them, but they’re too irresponsible to write a newspaper column,” State Sen. Megan Hunt said.

Backers fell short of the support they needed after three senators switched their votes on the second of three rounds of debate. The bill would have applied to students at public high schools, colleges and universities and would have included exceptions for stories that are libelous or violate journalism ethics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 WOWT. All rights reserved.