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New Year brings hope for New Voices

by Jackie Mink, JEA Emeritus Member
This past January, I saw television reports about  members of the UnitedStates Congress being sworn in for this new year. I also saw this happening with the Missouri legislature, which is the state where I live.

New sessions makes me think of the New Voices of Missouri legislation, a movement to guarantee student journalists in the state freedom to report without fear of consequence. 

Right now, there is no added protection against administrative censorship for high school or college journalists and their advisers, leaving them vulnerable to censorship for simply reporting the truth. 
According to the New Voices web site and Facebook:
• For three years in a row, the Missouri Senate failed to call New Voices reform legislation for a final floor vote despite nearly unopposed approval in the House and in the Senate Education Committee. 
• Rep. Kevin Corlew introduced a new version of the Cronkite New Voices Act, HB 441, Jan. 5, 2017. The 2017 version addressed concerns raised during 2016, including clarifying that schools and colleges are immune from legal liability for the speech of their students in journalistic publications.
• The bill in 2018 would have guaranteed freedom of the press in school-sponsored media for both public high schools and public colleges. Not all speech is protected under the bill. Exemptions include: speech that is libelous,  incites violence, contains a threat, engages in illegal activity, violates the rights of others, advertises an illegal product, encourages breaking school policies. 
• This was the third straight year the bill  (which would establish the Walter Cronkite New Voices Act) had passed the House with heavy support and passed a Senate committee, but it has never been brought before the full Senate.
   • Before the bill was brought up for the committee vote, there were concerns that groups representing school boards planned to propose “killer amendments” that would severely weaken the bill. 

The New Voices of Missouri Facebook page urged supporters to contact committee members and ask them to reject these changes.
     The Missouri Education Association, the Missouri Press Association and the Missouri College Media Association all support the  2019 legislation.

Dr. Robert Bergland, a professor of journalism and digital media at Missouri Western University emailed me and said, “ In addition to individuals calling/writing, is teachers encouraging their students to write/call.  If media advisers set aside 10 minutes to have their students write a quick 
e-mail or letter/postcard to their Senator (if they wish), that would be great for the bill and a good lesson in participatory democracy. We might want to do the same for the Governor if/when the bill passes the Senate, to have students and teachers and allies encouraging the governor to sign it. Also, encourage people to like/follow the Facebook page.”

 I emailed and called the office of  Missouri State Senator Gina Walsh.  She is my state senator, the minority floor leader, and her district encompasses Hazelwood East High School where the Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier case began over 30 years ago.  I requested information about whether she supported this bill or not.  I have not heard back as of April 12.  The legislative session ends May 17.

I hope the  Show Me State, which is the state of the famous journalist Walter Cronkite, the renowned  University of Missouri Journalism school,  active and involved student journalists, also the location where the Hazelwood case took place, will be able to pass the New Voices bill this year.

Check out the New Voices Missouri Facebook page to keep up on what happens in Missouri and other states where there is an effort to pass bills.  
 New Voices legislation has passed in 14 states, with Washington passing a version of the bill in 2018.

Student Press Law Center reporter Cory Dawson wrote Feb. 28, 2019, “Fourteen states already have New Voices laws on their books. So far in 2019, bills have been introduced in 11 states, although two have already failed to pass out of the committee stages. Arkansas (HB1231), Missouri (HB743), Nebraska (LB206), New York (A03079), Texas (SB514), Indiana (HB1213) and New Jersey (A238) already have bills moving through the legislature, whereas bills in Minnesota and Pennsylvania will be introduced in the coming days and weeks. Virginia and Hawaii’s bills have already been killed.”











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