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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
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Newly circulated bill would strengthen student journalists’ right to free speech

High school student Simon Mehring met with Republican lawmakers to create legislation that would safeguard student journalists even if the media is financially supported by their school.

Three Wisconsin Republicans released a proposal last week to codify rights and protections for student journalists. This proposal would also create an appeals and review process for students to challenge editorial decisions from school-sponsored college newspapers.

The bill, authored by Sen. Rachel Cabral-Guevara, R-Appleton, Rep. Tom Michaliski, R-Elm Grove, and Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, guarantees K-12, University of Wisconsin System and state technical college students can exercise freedom of speech and freedom of the press in school-sponsored media regardless of financial support by their school. 

The bill defines school-sponsored media as “any material that is prepared, substantially written, published, or broadcast, in any media, by a student journalist at an institution, under the direction of a media adviser, and distributed or generally made available to students enrolled in the institution.”

Additionally, the bill would require the Board of Regents of the UW System and each technical college district board to enshrine freedom of press and speech in their policy for student journalists. The policy must include an appeals process for students.

Simon Mehring, the associate editor-in-chief of The Norse Star student newspaper at Stoughton High School, attended the Kettle Moraine Press Associated conference, where he learned of the New Voices Bill, a national bill that guarantees public school students have First Amendment protections.  

On a bus ride home, Mehring discovered no one had pushed for the U.S. bill in nearly a decade, motivating him to revamp legislation similar to the New Voices Bill by engaging with Wisconsin lawmakers. 

“The bill really does consolidate the First Amendment into more statutory law. This isn't anything new,” Mehring said. “These are just concrete ideas that we're making a little bit more protective for student journalists.”

The bill does not protect student media if it is libelous or slanderous, contains an unwarranted invasion of privacy, violates state or federal law or incites students to violate the law or school policy or “[disrupts] the orderly operation of the school.”

A version of this bill was passed and signed into law in two states, West Virginia and Washington, according to the authors of the co-sponsorship memo. 

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Ava Menkes

Ava Menkes is the state news editor at The Daily Cardinal. She has covered multiple stories about Wisconsin politics and written in-depth about nurses unions and youth voter turnout. Follow her on Twitter at @AvaMenkes.

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