Wisconsin New Voices looks for legislative sponsorship


by Linda Barrington, MJE

The good news is that Illinois New Voices Act has found legislative sponsorship.

Wisconsin, however, is a step behind.  We need bipartisan sponsorship and support.  Recently, I wrote to Wisconsin advisers, both high school and college, asking them to write to their senators and representatives.  I give sincere and hearty thanks to Shannon Kuehmichel and Matt Smith for putting together all the information we need to write those letters.

The New Voices of Wisconsin Act for school-sponsored media will guarantee First Amendment rights to student journalists enrolled in institutions of higher learning and public schools. Currently, eight states have passed such legislation, most recently North Dakota last April with a unanimous vote.  See this story about the North Dakota John Wall New Voices Act:  http://www.splc.org/article/2015/04/n-d-governor-signs-law-granting-student-journalists-enhanced-free-speech-protections.  In recent weeks, legislators in Washington, Missouri, Nebraska, Illinois and Maryland have all filed New Voices bills. We are ready in Wisconsin for a New Voices Act.

The need for this legislation is apparent.  See this article written just last week by the editor-in-chief of the West Bend High Schools newspaper: http://westbendcurrent.com/2016/02/08/state-law-should-guarantee-freedoms-for-student-journalists/.  People may not realize that censorship in colleges and university is on the rise.  See this article posted last week at the  “Chronicle of Higher Education”:   http://chronicle.com/article/Protecting-Student-Journalists/235274/

The benefits of passing this proposed legislation are many. This bill will help align the operation of student publications with nationally promoted best practices and 21st century skills; affirm state and district educational goals for innovative, student driven learning; establish learning environments centered on curiosity, trust, and understanding; and encourage students’ civic responsibility through the practice of democratic principles.

In addition to providing Wisconsin students with a structure of journalism education that has been proven to work, the New Voices Act will help districts avoid legal risk, will protect school communities from the divisive and harmful effects of censorship and, maybe most compelling, will do nothing to limit a school’s ability to address legitimate concerns or regulate unprotected student expression.

Here is our proposed language for the bill: New Voices Wisconsin Law Draft

Here is a statement of support: NewVoicesWisconsinStatementofSupport   We are asking that you and/or your department at school and/or your staff. Sign this document (or craft your own) and email it back to us ([email protected]) for posting on the Wisconsin section of the national New Voices website:  http://newvoicesus.com.

Here is a sample letter as a model of what you can include in your letter to your legislator: NewVoicesLettertoLegislators Feb 2016 sample

Linda Barrington, MJE, is the graphics adviser for the Arches feature magazine at Mount Mary University in Wisconsin.  She is KEMPA executive director and chairs the Winter Advisers’ Seminar.  She is the chair of the JEA Mentor Program and vice-president of the Wisconsin College Media Association.  Her blog focuses on advising and the importance of KEMPA.