graphic of Free Speech in State Legislatures

Louisiana governor signs campus free expression bill – June 2018

Baton Rouge, LA

In June 2018, Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards signed a bill that seeks to protect free expression on public college and university campuses in the state, particularly by codifying student and faculty expression rights. Another free expression bill, which sought to protect controversial figures’ right to speak on campuses, was vetoed by Edwards in June 2017.

Key Players

John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, is the current governor of Louisiana, having held the office since 2016. He vetoed a proposed free expression bill in 2017, before signing a different one into law in 2018.

Rick Ward is a Republican who has served as a state senator in Louisiana since 2012. Ward introduced SB 364 into the Louisiana Senate in March 2018.

Further Details

SB 364 requires public colleges and universities in Louisiana to “strive to ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression” on their campuses. They must develop and adopt free expression policies, publish them in their school handbooks and websites, and explain them during student orientations. The bill does allow for some time and place restrictions on expression, “narrowly tailored in service of significant institutional interest.” It also specifies that the state’s public colleges and universities cannot deny “a belief-based student organization” any of the privileges or benefits that are made available to other student organizations.

Finally, SB 364 requires Louisiana’s public colleges and universities to submit a report to the governor and the state legislature in January 2019 discussing the implementation of the law on their campuses. From that point on, institutions will have to submit annual reports detailing any “barriers to, or incidents against, free expression” that have occurred, as well as any action taken in response.

In April 2017, another free expression bill, HB 269, was introduced in the Louisiana House of Representatives. That bill sought to protect controversial speakers who visit college campuses and encourage penalties against students who interrupt them, according to The Times-Picayune. The proposed law also required schools to adopt free expression statements — similar to the requirement in SB 364 — and would have established a committee on free expression under the Louisiana Board of Regents to report annually on free speech controversies and obstacles on campuses.

HB 269 had broad bipartisan support and passed the Louisiana House of Representatives 95-0 and the state Senate 30-2, but it was vetoed by Edwards in June 2017. In his veto letter, he wrote that the bill was “unnecessary and overly burdensome to our colleges and universities” and that the freedoms it sought to protect were already covered by the First Amendment, according to the Times-Picayune.

After Edwards vetoed HB 269, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote that it was “saddened” the bill had not passed, since it contained “several important provisions that would have protected campus free speech,” particularly by forcing schools to abandon “free speech zones” and potentially penalize hecklers.

Outcome

Governor signs SB 364 into law

In April 2018, SB 364 passed the Louisiana Senate with a 33-0 vote with six members absent and not voting. In May 2018, the bill passed the state’s House of Representatives in a 58-26 vote with 20 members absent and not voting. The House vote fell largely along partisan lines, with 25 of the 26 negative votes coming from Democrats.

The bill was sent to Edwards’s desk on May 22, 2018, and on June 1, he signed it into law. It became effective immediately.

External References

HB 269 by Representative Lance Harris, Louisiana State Legislature

House passes bill to ensure free speech for controversial speakers on Louisiana college campuses, The Advocate

College ‘free speech’ bill vetoed by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, The Times-Picayune

Louisiana governor vetoes campus free speech bill, FIRE

Senate Bill No. 364

State Legislature continues campus free speech battle, The Daily Advertiser

SB364 by Senator Rick Ward, III, Louisiana State Legislature

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded July 1, 2018