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Student journalist protection bill stalls in Legislature

April 14, 2021 GMT

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A bill that would have extended free-speech protections to Nebraska student journalists and their advisers stalled in the Legislature on Wednesday after advancing through an initial vote last month.

Backers fell short of the support they needed after three senators switched their votes on the second of three rounds of debate. Lawmakers voted 30-17 to overcome a filibuster by opponents, but needed 33 “yes” votes.

Sen. Adam Morfeld, of Lincoln, introduced the bill following numerous incidents where Nebraska high school administrators censored student newspaper articles they deemed too controversial or unflattering.

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The bill would have applied to students at public high schools, colleges and universities. It would have allowed administrators to stop articles that are libelous, violate journalistic ethics or incite violence, among other exceptions. Morfeld argued that it’s important for students to learn firsthand about the First Amendment without school officials censoring them.

Lawmakers who opposed the bill argued that students who are immature and still learning about journalism shouldn’t be given free reign in publications sponsored by a publicly funded school.

Supporters overcame a filibuster last month, but fell short on Wednesday after one senator who previously voted “yes” switched his vote to “no” and two others changed to “present, not voting,” which has the same effect as a “no” vote.