DENVER – Designated free speech zones on Colorado public college campuses are one step closer to being a thing of the past after Senate Bill 62 was passed Friday by the state Senate.
SB 62 would prohibit public higher education institutions from restricting the freedom of expression by students on college campuses by limiting such displays to areas designated as “free speech” zones. It would abolish such zones.
The bill was heard in the Senate Education Committee last week, where concerns about allowing for speech that could lead to violence and a lack of input from universities were assuaged and it was passed unanimously.
An amendment nearly as long as the original bill was presented by sponsor Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, to clarify the bill and rework it after conversations with the University of Colorado.
Changes from the amendment include:
Removal of a provision for “public forums” to be open for free expression. It was replaced with a definition of “student forums,” which extends to any area on campus not expressly used for academic purposes.Stripping a portion of the bill that required the establishment of monuments to the First Amendment where “free speech” zones had been located.Clarification that SB 62 did not “prevent an institution of higher education from prohibiting, limiting or restricting expression that is not protected under the First Amendment.” This would include hate speech that incites violence.Changing references from “persons” to “students” to ensure the bill would be interpreted as applying to college enrollees and not university employees.“The goals and intent are to protect the rights of students to exercise freedom of speech on campus, while still respecting the right of universities to preserve their important education safety mission,” Neville said of the amendment.
Also included was a definition of the term “expression,” which includes peaceful assembly, protests, oratory, holding signs and circulating petitions and other written materials.
The absence of a provision for voter registration events as an act of free expression was worrisome for Senate Democrats, who moved twice to amend the definition to include voter registration.
“We always talk about wanting everyone to get out and vote, especially the young folks, and if we’re going to talk about the right to free speech, the right for their opinions to be heard, what is more important than to actually get them registered to vote so they can let their opinions be heard,” said Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood.
Republicans in the chamber insisted that they would rather wait until they spoke with representatives of universities and not damage the rapport they had developed while working on the amendment adopted Friday.
Neville said the provision for voter registrations could be added when the bill is heard in committee in the House after it receives a third reading and final passage next week.