Free expression bill goes to LA governor's desk
- The bill would require public colleges and universities to adopt policies imposing disciplinary action on students who interfere with the free expression of others.
- A previous version of the bill failed, but a revised version passed after removing language entitling students to collect damages from universities if their speech is violated.
A bill supporting free speech on college campuses in Louisiana has passed the state house, and now moves to the desk of Governor John Bel Edwards (D), where it is unclear if he will sign the bill into law.
House Bill 269 passed the Louisiana House on a bipartisan 95-0 vote with 10 representatives abstaining. It had previously passed the Louisiana Senate by a vote of 30-3.
According to NOLA.com, a previous version of the bill failed in the House over a provision that allowed students to sue their university once they their First Amendment rights were violated. If the university was found in the wrong, it would owe the student at least $1,000 in addition to court and attorney fees.
“I just don't know what's wrong with the First Amendment that needs fixing,” Representative Sam Jones (D) declared at the time.
In addition to damages owed to the student by the school, the old text would have imposed disciplinary actions on any student who “interferes with the free expression of others.” If a student was found guilty a second time of interfering with others’ free expression, they would be “suspended for a minimum of one year or expelled.”
When reintroduced without the language that would penalize universities, the bill sailed through the legislature.
The version of the bill passed on June 6 mandates that the supervisory boards for multiple public universities develop a statement committing their schools to “ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression.” Additionally, their statements must disavow “shield[ing] individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment,” including “ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.”
Though the current bill still contains language demanding disciplinary action for interference of others’ free expression, it does not mention suspension.
To ensure that this bill is properly put into place, the Louisiana Board of Regents would also be required to “create a committee on free speech” that would create annual reports on the state of free expression at Louisiana’s higher educational institutions.
Senator John Milkovich (D) thanked Representative Lance Harris (R) for introducing the bill and “taking [a] stand.”
“If you can't express your views at colleges, that is troubling,” Milkovich said.
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