Without Protest, Campus Free Speech Bill Passes Out Of Senate Committee

Originally published on March 12, 2019 7:55 am

A bill that would create more uniform policies on speech at Texas colleges and universities passed unanimously out of a Senate committee Monday.

Lawmakers in statehouses across the country have filed similar bills as conservative groups complain of having events canceled or having a harder time getting permission to demonstrate or schedule speakers.

In the last couple years, a few high-profile speakers have been blocked from holding events on university campuses – from neo-Nazis trying to speak at Texas A&M to a conservative provocateur at the University of California.

Senate Bill 18 would require campuses to create a new free speech policy defining everything from where students are allowed to express their views publically to rules on how speakers are selected and authorized to come to campus.

"The policy must allow individuals to engage in expressive activities on campus and enable student organizations and faculty to invite speakers to speak on campus," the bill's author, state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), said. "The policy must establish disciplinary sanctions for students, student organizations or faculties who unduly interfere with others' free speech rights."

Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have made campus free speech a priority. The president even announced he would sign an executive order protecting conservative ideas on campus.

State Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) said it's important for everyone to hear differing opinions.

"I would rather spend my time talking with someone I disagree with than people I agree with. Because when I talk to people I agree with, I'm not learning a thing," he told the Senate State Affairs Committee before Monday's vote. "But when I listen to people with a different point of view or a different perspective or whatever it is they come in with, it's an opportunity to learn."

While he didn't point to any canceled events on his campus, the vice chairman of the Young Conservatives of Texas at Texas State told committee members student groups need a process for bringing political speakers on campus.

“The fact that any student organization had to sue their school for their right to speak peacefully on their campus is disgraceful,” Sebastian Quaid said.

Huffman said her office worked with colleges and universities to come up with a bill that could be supported by the schools, while also achieving her goal of providing more protections for divisive opinions to be heard.

The bill, which was designated as a top priority for the Senate, now heads to the full chamber for debate.

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