(The Center Square) – As a high school student in 2002, Adam Morfeld decided to start an underground student newspaper and was almost expelled for the effort.
“I was promptly called down to the principal’s office and told to either cease and desist or I would be expelled," Morfeld recalled. “I contacted the American Civil Liberties Union and it didn’t turn out too well for the school.”
Morfeld, of Lincoln, became a state senator and now he has introduced legislation (LB 88) to protect student journalists.
The Nebraska Legislature voted March 19 to advance the bill despite a filibuster attempt. The proposed legislation protects public school student journalists and their advisors, Morfeld told The Center Square.
“All school-sponsored media are deemed to be public forums,” the legislation says. “A student journalist has a right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in school-sponsored media.”
The bill applies to public high schools and colleges, but there are some limitations.
“If it’s libel, slander, violates state or federal law unduly invades the privacy rights of somebody then the school or media advisor could censor,” Morfeld said.
It also protects student media advisors from being fired, suspended or otherwise disciplined for protecting students' First Amendment rights.
The bill has support from journalists and teacher’s groups, Morfeld said.
“The administrators definitely don’t like it,” he said.
So far, however, the opponents haven’t been able to stop the legislation from proceeding.
“In the debate, there was a filibuster attempt which was unsuccessful and then we got 28 out of 49 votes on the floor,” Morfeld said. “The other dynamic is that I am a big supporter of education, too.”
The bill now goes on to the second round of debate and if it advances, a third and final reading round of debate. If the bill continues to advance through the rounds, it would then go to the governor for his signature.
Morfeld did not choose a career in journalism after his high-school encounter with attempted censorship. Instead, he went to law school and founded a non-profit group, Civic Nebraska, which strives to “build a more modern and robust democracy for all Nebraskans.”