Phi Beta Cons

Friendly Legislation in California

The Student Press Law Center (SPLC) reports that two “student press-friendly” bills are working their way through the California State Assembly. The first bill (AB 2612), authored by San Diego Republican George Plescia, protects student newspapers from theft. Plescia’s bill “would make it an infraction on the first offense and a woblette (an infraction or misdemeanor) on the second offense, to take more than five copies of a free newspaper with the intent to: (1) Recycle for cash or other payment; (2) Sell or barter the newspapers; (3) Deprive others of the ability to read or enjoy the newspaper; or (4) Harm a business competitor,” according to the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA), a sponsor of the bill. It is the experience of the Collegiate Network, a sponsor of independent college publications, that some administrations ignore theft of alternative newspapers claiming it is not illegal to steal a free publication. This bill, if passed, would change that. Plescia was recently elected Assembly Republican Leader, possibly increasing the likelihood that the bill will pass.

The other bill (AB 2581), authored by Democrat Joe Nation, was written in response to the Hosty decision that CAMPUS Magazine Online has been covering extensively. The bill, also sponsored by CNPA, bans universities from censoring student press and protects the First Amendment rights of college journalists. AB 2581 adds “and the student press” to California’s Leonard Law, which protects student speech from laws on a college campus if the speech is protected by the First Amendment off the campus. This would be a tremendous precedent to set nationwide.

Both bills are exceedingly necessary. Independent publications are regularly stolen and destroyed, often without response from the administration–exactly what happened at Oregon State University. When the Supreme Court decided against hearing Hosty, they opened the door for challenges nationwide, though the decision they let stand only legally affects the 7th Circuit (IL, IN, WI). In fact, shortly after the Hosty decision, general counsel for California State University sent a “wait and see” memo to all CSU university presidents, noting, “[T]he case appears to signal that CSU campuses may have more latitude than previously believed to censor the content of subsidized student newspapers, provided that there is an established practice of regularized content review and approval for pedagogical purposes,” as reported in CMO’s September 15th blog.

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