Free Speech on CA College Campuses Proposal --- Fate to be Determined in Today's Appropriations Committee
Today, the Senate Appropriations Committee will meet at 10am in Room 4203 of the state Capitol to determine the fate of nearly 300 legislative proposals.
Senate Bill 472 (Nielsen), a measure to require California public colleges and universities to protect free speech on campus for all students, is among them.
Without citing specifics, UC officials claim that allowing free speech on their campuses will cost millions to implement each year.
“There is a culture of secrecy within UC's leadership bureaucracy. College students should be encouraged to exchange ideas and share their life’s experiences. Free speech should not be suppressed, Frankly, UC's position is absurd, since the university should already be a place where free speech is universally protected and pursued,” said Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama).
“Given the state auditor’s recent scathing finding that UC’s Office of the President hid $175 million while demanding tuition increases from students and parents, it is my hope that the Senate Appropriations Committee recognizes UC’s ploy and passes Senate Bill 472 out of the Appropriations Committee to the Senate Floor,” Nielsen added.
Below is an excerpt from a Los Angeles Times article on this measure and students are currently impacted by unconstitutional, restrictive policies on speech:
Frustrated with campus discourse limits, California Republicans take on 'free speech zones'
In the realm of political odd couples, state Sen. Jim Nielsen of Gerber and aspiring public interest lawyer Nicolas Tomas may be among the oddest. Tomas, a 26-year-old Democrat, is a promoter of the vegan lifestyle. Nielsen, a 72-year-old Republican, is a cattleman and dairyman by trade.
The unlikely duo found common cause in pushing back against what they see as a climate of restricted free speech on college campuses. Two years ago, Tomas sued Cal Poly Pomona for preventing him from distributing pro-vegan leaflets outside of the “free speech zone”— a 144-square-foot area designated for such activities. Now, Nielsen is carrying a bill to dismantle the use of these zones on public campuses.
“The motivation is just to ensure there truly is free speech on our campuses in California,” Nielsen said.
The proposed measures tackle the issue of campus speech in different ways. Nielsen’s bill would reaffirm that outdoor spaces on campus are public forums. Institutions would only be able to impose reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of speech, such as barring demonstrations with bullhorns in front of the library during finals week. School policies would also need to allow for spontaneous assembly and distribution of literature, so students can react to breaking news events.
“Free speech zones would be the lowest hanging fruit that would have huge impact on students free speech rights across the board,” [Joe Cohn, legislative director at the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said.]
Such zones have prompted a spate of lawsuits. Tomas’ suit against Cal Poly Pomona was settled for $35,000.
But with individual UC, CSU and community college campuses determining their own policies, Cohn said there was a need for legislators to send a message to administrators that overly restrictive policies run afoul of the 1st Amendment.
The bill, SB 472, sailed through two policy committees with unanimous support. But a possible hitch looms: UC has estimated that enforcing the measure could add millions of dollars of costs for administrative, security and legal fees.
The potentially high price qualifies the measure for the “suspense file,” in which the fates of all bills pegged with a fiscal impact are decided in one hearing — scheduled in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday — without the typical roll call vote. The bill’s backers worry its suspense file status could enable lawmakers to quietly kill the proposal.
... “I find it really great to team up with the cattle rancher,” he said. “It really symbolizes the issue. Free speech at its finest is two people disagreeing with each other and saying, ‘Let's discuss it.’”