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Iowa governor signs campus free speech legislation

March 28, 2019 GMT

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa’s governor has signed a bill backed by conservative groups that requires public universities and community colleges to implement policies protecting free speech on campus.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the legislation Wednesday mandating that the schools consider what changes they need to make to maintain the “fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression,” the Des Moines Register reported.

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Conservative students and groups nationwide complain that their free speech rights have been restricted on liberal campuses in recent years, triggering a series of proposals from state legislators. President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week that ordered colleges to protect free speech or risk losing federal funding.

Reynolds, a Republican, said she was delighted to sign the new law.

“Our public universities and community colleges should always be places where ideas can be debated, built upon, and creative thoughts flourish without limits,” she said in a news release.

Versions of the Iowa law have been discussed for years, but lawmakers revved up reform efforts in February after a federal court ruled in favor of a Christian group that contended it was discriminated against by the University of Iowa.

With Reynolds’ endorsement of the bill, Josh Lehman, spokesman for the Iowa Board of Regents, said the university system will evaluate whether any changes to free speech policies are needed on their campuses.

“We will take all the necessary steps to make sure that our policies are in compliance with the law,” Lehman said.

Katherine Tachau, president of the University of Iowa’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the right to free expression is at the core of universities. She said it’s still unclear how the law will impact their campus, but her organization is concerned about “undesirable unintended consequences.”

“As a public university we are bound by constitutional law on freedom of expression, so we were not at all convinced that we needed a new law to achieve what we achieve most of the time,” Tachau said.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com