August 17, 2017

SB 17-062: Prohibiting Institutions of Higher Education from Limiting Students’ Free Speech

On January 13, 2017, Sen. Tim Neville and Rep. Stephen Humphrey introduced SB 17-062, “Concerning the Right to Free Speech on Campuses of Public Institutions of Higher Education.”

The bill prohibits public institutions of higher education (public institution) from limiting or restricting student expression in a student forum. ‘Expression’ is defined to mean any lawful verbal or written means by which individuals communicate ideas to one another, including all forms of peaceful assembly, protests, speaking verbally, holding signs, circulating petitions, and disstributing written materials. ‘Expression’ also includes voter registration activities but does not include speech that is primarily for a commercial purpose.

A public institution shall not subject a student to disciplinary action as a result of his or her expression. A public institution shall not designate any area on campus as a free speech zone or otherwise create policies that imply that its students’ expressive activities are restricted to a particular area of campus. Additionally, a public institution shall not impose restrictions on the time, place, and manner of student speech unless such restrictions are reasonable, justified without reference to the speech’s content, are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information or message.

The bill states that it does not grant other members of the college or university community the right to disrupt previously scheduled or reserved activities in a portion or section of the student forum at that scheduled time. Additionally, the bill clarifies that it is not to be interpreted as preventing the public institution from prohibiting, limiting, or restricting expression that is not protected under the 1st Amendment.

A student who has been denied access to a student forum for expressive purposes may bring a court action to recover reasonable court costs and attorney fees.

The bill was introduced in the Senate and assigned to the Education Committee. It was amended in committee, and was again amended on Second and Third Reading in the Senate. It passed the Senate and was introduced in the House and assigned to the State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee.

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