Texas House Passes Senate Bill Seeking To Ensure Free Speech On College Campuses

Texas House Passes Senate Bill Seeking To Ensure Free Speech On College Campuses
Photo Credit To Michael Stravato | Texas Tribune | State Troopers in riot gear pushed protesters away from the building where white nationalist Richard Spencer was speaking at Texas A&M in 2016. 

Senate Bill 18 would require universities to create disciplinary sanctions for students who interfere with free speech activities. It would still allow universities to put restrictions on the time, place and manner of such activities.

By Catherine Marfin

The Texas House tentatively approved a bill Friday evening that would require public colleges and universities across the state to come up with more uniform policies on free speech.

Senate Bill 18, authored by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, would require universities to allow any person to engage in free speech activities on campus, create disciplinary sanctions for students who interfere with the free speech activities of others and establish a process for addressing complaints of potential free speech violations. It would still allow universities to put restrictions on the time, place and manner of free speech activities.

The bill was labeled a top priority by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and it passed unanimously out of the Senate in late March. It passed the lower chamber Friday on a 86-58 vote after three amendments by state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, were added onto the measure.

One of the amendments would prohibit university officials or employees from disinviting a speaker who was approved by the university to speak on campus and was invited by a university-affiliated individual or group. Another would require universities to create a committee to submit to lawmakers annual reports that analyze free speech policies and events.

(Update: On May 20, bill author Huffman indicated she did not agree with the amended legislation and asked that a conference committee be appointed to iron out differences between the chambers’ two versions.)

Much of the criticism of campus free speech policies comes as events in recent years have some worried that conservative voices are being silenced on college campuses.

In 2017, for example, Texas A&M University was threatened with a lawsuit after it canceled a rally with white nationalist Richard Spencer. Later that year, Texas Southern University came under fire from lawmakers after it halted a speech by Cain when protesters disrupted it.

This story originally published by the Texas Tribune.

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