A South Dakota House of Representatives bill written to protect free speech on campus was voted down during a committee vote on Friday.
The bill, which was introduced by State Representative Michael Clark in early 2018, aimed to prohibit “free speech zones” on public university campuses and force administrators to uphold First Amendment rights for students. Free speech zones are designated areas on college campuses where students are permitted to exercise their First Amendment rights.
“This bill protects free speech on college campuses, it removes the idea of the free speech zones and informs staff and teachers and the students of their right and responsibilities regarding free speech,” Clark said in January. Clark is one of several South Dakota state representatives who is sponsoring the bill.
Although Clark was confident in January that the bill would pass, Clark is now pessimistic. In an email to the College Fix on Friday afternoon, he claimed that “for the most part this bill is mostly dead.”
Former University of South Dakota professor William Richardson testified in favor of the bill. “In the light of what’s been going on nationally at other universities, my support is especially animated by the way campus speakers sometimes are disinvited or shutdown,” Richardson said.
Will Mortenson, of the South Dakota Board of Technical Education and the state’s technical institutions, argued that the bill would lead to a bureaucratic nightmare. “I think [this bill] does two things. I think it’s pretty certain to increase costly bureaucratic mandates. I think it’s pretty likely to lead to lawsuits. I don’t think it has a tremendous effect on speech. I don’t think it has much of an effect on campus speech at all,” he said.
Teagan McNary, the President of the University of South Dakota Student Government Association argued that the bill was “unnecessary.”
“The bill is redundant and unnecessary. It is an attempt at a solution to a problem that does not exist,” McNary said.
In November 2017, a court ordered Fresno State Professor Gregory Thatcher to pay a $17,000 fine after he was caught on video erasing political chalk writings off of the sidewalks at the public university. He accused the students responsible for the chalk writings of violating a “free speech zone policy” that hadn’t been in effect at the university since 2015. Thatcher was also forced to attend First Amendment training.
The public Arkansas State University was sued by the school’s Turning Point USA chapter in December 2017 over a“free speech zone” policy that restricted student’s First Amendment right to certain areas of campus.