Cloture attempt on student journalist, adviser free speech protections fails

A bill to expand student journalist and advisor protections did not advance from select file April 14 after a motion to end debate and force a vote on the proposal failed.

Sen. Adam Morfeld
Sen. Adam Morfeld

LB88, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld, would designate student-produced media as part of a public forum and extend the full right to exercise freedom of speech and press that is provided to professional members of the media to public high school and postsecondary student journalists, as well as their media advisers.

The bill would not protect any expression by a student journalist that is libelous or slanderous, constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy, violates state or federal law or incites students to engage in unlawful acts.

Student journalists and advisers would not be subject to discipline for exercising their rights as protected under the bill.

North Platte Sen. Mike Groene opposed LB88, saying it would go too far in protecting student media advisers from discipline.

“This bill can never be made better unless the publisher is in charge and that’s the administrator and the school board,” he said. “We cannot have an employee in a school that is not susceptible to discipline for any reason.”

Bayard Sen. Steve Erdman introduced an amendment on select file, adopted 44-1, to specify that student media advisers could face discipline but with guaranteed due process protections. He said the change would allow administrators to make appropriate, necessary employment decisions to protect students while still guaranteeing media advisers’ rights.

Speaking in support of the amended version of LB88 was Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt. She said opponents of the bill who expressed concerns that student journalists would publish content that they would later regret were attempting to protect those students from themselves.

“We need to tell students that we support the exchange of ideas and that we support education and the educators in Nebraska who are supervising these students already,” Hunt said.

A pending amendment introduced by Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln would strike language designating a student newspaper as part of a public forum. He said the change would address concerns that the bill would prevent school faculty from having any oversight over student journalists.

Morfeld supported the amendment, saying students benefit from the oversight provided by student media advisers.

“It is important that young people in our state who are exercising their rights for the first time — particularly in a government institution that should be content and viewpoint neutral — have the ability to exercise those freedom of speech rights with the supervision of a student media adviser … and their administrator as well,” he said.

After four hours of debate, Morfeld offered a motion to invoke cloture, which would end debate and force a vote on the bill and any pending amendments.

The cloture motion failed 30-17. Thirty-three votes were needed. A failed cloture motion results in debate on a proposal ceasing for the day. LB88 is unlikely to be placed on the agenda again this session.

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