Campus free speech bill heading to governor

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Legislation, dubbed the campus free speech bill, received final passage by a 30-7 vote Thursday in the Kentucky Senate.

The measure, known as House Bill 254, would require the state’s public universities to affirm they favor a free marketplace of ideas where speech is not suppressed because it’s deemed “offensive, unwise, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional or radical.” It would also expand areas commonly known as “free speech zones” on many campuses to any accessible, open, outdoor venue.

“I think everyone in this body would agree that universities are meant to be the place of discussion and debate,” said Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, who carried the bill in the Senate. “Yet, unfortunately, many of our universities have policies in place to prohibit the marketplace of ideas.”

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, and Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg.

Schroder said HB 254 was similar to last year’s Senate Bill 237, which passed the Senate but did not become law.

“I believe free speech, openness and transparency are things we desperately need in this government,” said Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville. “Having been on two college campuses of public universities, I can say that I’ve experienced firsthand the need for free speech.”

However, McGarvey said he couldn’t support HB 254 out of concern it would actually curtail free speech. He said it would do that by limiting those who could counter protest.

Schroder cited a Foundation for Individual Rights in Education report that found seven out of Kentucky’s eight public universities currently have at least one policy in place that is unconstitutional when it comes to the First Amendment. For example, at least one university requires students to remain in a “free-speech zone” while they share their views on religion and politics, he said.

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