Friday, June 01, 2007

Illinois House Passes Reverse-Hosty Law

James Tidwell of Eastern Illinois University reported today: "The amended College Press Act (SB0729) passed the Illinois House yesterday (Thursday) 112-2. Sen. Susan Garrett, the Senate sponsor of the bill, filed a Motion to Concur, asking the Senate to agree to the House amendments. The Senate passed the original bill, 57-0, March 15. The Motion to Concur was referred to the Rules Committee. One of Sen. Garrett's staff members told me this morning she expected the Motion to Concur should be voted out of Rules as early as today (Friday) and a final vote of the Senate should take place late today or early next week." The Student Press Law Center also has a report.

The Illinois law will reverse the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Hosty v. Carter and protect freedom of the college press.

There's been some concern about the amendments to the bill that were introduced and passed earlier this week at the urging of college administrators, who reportedly have been secretly lobbying behind the scenes to try to kill the bill.

The immunity part is okay: "A State-sponsored institution of higher learning shall be immune from any lawsuit arising from expression actually made in campus media." This means a lawsuit against a student newspaper is less likely because there's no deep pockets from the university. So that's good. It's not immunity for violating student rights.

The other major amendment part is more dubious: “for speech that is not constitutionally protected, including obscenity or incitement.”

I don't like that, but constitutionally unprotected speech is very rare. Basically, it means that if you can be arrested for writing something, the university can also pubish you for doing it. In practice, it's essentially impossible for a newspaper to incite or be obscene (or harass, for that matter). They're very archaic terms. The danger is how someone might enforce this, especially in other areas, such as libel.

All that one section means is that if a university punishes students for obscenity or incitement or other illegal acts based on speech, this law doesn't change it. It doesn't entitle them to do it (there would need to be a campus policy stating it, and it could be challenged on constitutional grounds), but it doesn't stop it. Administrators, unfortunately, already have those weapons, although it's difficult for them to use any of them in a constitutionally valid manner.

So I don't think the amendments really change anything. It would be far better if these silly and completely unnecessary statements weren't in the bill, but it's still a great bill.

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