Virginia

West Virginia Senate approves New Voices bill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 25, 2023

Contact: Hillary Davis, Advocacy and Organizing Director
[email protected], (202) 785-5451

West Virginia Senate Approves New Voices Legislation; SPLC requests change

The West Virginia Senate unanimously passed a New Voices bill restricting censorship of student journalists. Sponsored by Senator Mike Azinger, SB 121 ensures that student journalists at the high school and college levels control the content of student media and can only be censored in certain exceptional circumstances. The legislation also protects against retaliation against counselors who refuse to unlawfully censor their students. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. The Student Press Law Center has and will continue to push for an amendment to address lingering concerns about unconstitutional language in the bill.

This is the second time in two years that the West Virginia Senate will support legislation protecting student press freedom. The New Voices legislation was first introduced in 2022, and a version protecting only college students was approved by the Senate. This year, the Senate Education Committee expanded the bill to protect journalists and high school student advisors, according to written testimony from the Student Press Law Center.

The legislation is a tremendous step forward for West Virginia’s student journalists and positions West Virginia to be the 17th state to restore and protect student press freedom. However, the Student Press Law Center is pushing for a critical amendment to the bill to ensure it remains only an extension, and not an unconstitutional curtailment, of student press freedom.

In a written statement before the Senate Education Committee, the Student Press Law Center found that the current law prohibiting language that is “obscene, vulgar, or offensive to a reasonable person” constitutes an undue restriction on the rights of student journalists, particularly of journalists at the college level. The SPLC noted: “While the US Supreme Court has cleared the way in its case Fraser High school officials’ decision to ban “less than profanity” definitely protects such speech – which is likely to involve vulgarity and other generally objectionable speech – at the college level. Censoring a student journalist for vulgar or offensive language would likely be struck down as unconstitutional.” The SPLC will continue to push for the removal of this unconstitutional language before the law passes the House of Representatives.

Any West Virginians interested in learning more about this legislation and wishing to participate should contact SPLC Advocacy and Organizing Director Hillary Davis at [email protected] The West Virginia Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on March 11, 2023.

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