College 'Free Speech' Measure Signed By Louisiana Governor



 

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A measure aimed at protecting controversial speakers' appearances at Louisiana colleges has been signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The Democratic governor agreed to the legislation a year after vetoing a similar proposal sponsored by one of his top foes, House GOP leader Lance Harris.

The new law, which took effect immediately, was sponsored by Republican Sen. Rick Ward.

The Advocate reports colleges and universities have to spell out free speech rights and publicize those rights in student handbooks and on school websites. They have to make clear that students cannot expect colleges to shield them from opinions they find offensive or disagreeable.

Republicans in several states have proposed similar legislation.

In last year's veto message, Edwards said Harris' proposal was "a solution in search of a problem," echoing critics who say students already have ample First Amendment protections.

Ward's bill removed some provisions included in Harris' proposal, such as calling on campuses to penalize students who disrupt protests and speeches and setting up a 15-member commission to oversee the rules.

"These are two very different bills that seek very different outcomes," Edwards spokeswoman Shauna Sanford said.

"Under the bill by Sen. Rick Ward, colleges are limited in putting restrictions on when and where students can gather to express their right to free speech," she said in an email. Harris' bill, she wrote, "would have placed sanctions on students who interfered with other students expressing their constitutional right."

Ward, a Port Allen lawyer, said his bill was based on U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

"Once it is written that way, then it is pretty certain that you are not going to have any fear of any constitutional issues going forward," he said.

Last year, Harris said his bill stemmed in part from the disruption of conservative speakers at the University of California at Berkeley and other schools. Although no major incidents have surfaced in Louisiana, Ward and Harris said they have heard from students and others who worried their free speech rights were threatened.

"I think sometimes the best way to address things is to try to head them off before something bad does happen," Ward said. "I hope this does that."

Schools are required to submit reports to the governor and the Legislature by Jan. 1 on how they are carrying out the law. They also will be required to submit annual reports on any incidents aimed at limiting free speech.

Some college officials expressed concerns about the paperwork requirements.

___

Senate Bill 364: www.legis.la.gov

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