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Nebraska becomes latest state to consider campus free speech bill based on Goldwater Institute model

Phoenix—Nebraska is the latest in a growing list of states to consider legislation to restore free speech on college campuses, inspired by a model bill released by the Goldwater Institute. North Carolina enacted similar legislation in August, the University of Wisconsin and University of North Carolina adopted Goldwater-style policies to protect speech last year, and related legislation is in the works in 12 other states.

“As students return to campus after their winter breaks, it is inspiring to see the state of Nebraska take campus free speech rights seriously and move toward protecting free expression throughout the University of Nebraska system,” said Goldwater Institute senior attorney Jim Manley, who is a co-author of the model legislation that inspired the new Nebraska bill. “Should this new bill become law, it would create greater accountability regarding the preservation of free speech rights for all on NU campuses.”

In 2017, the Goldwater Institute released the report Campus Free Speech: A Legislative Proposal, which included a model bill outlining a series of provisions designed to, as the report explains, “encourage students and administrators to respect and protect the free expression of others.” These provisions establish disciplinary sanctions to ensure that those who repeatedly violate others’ free speech rights are held accountable for their actions, while also giving them full due process protections.

In the months since the Goldwater Institute model bill’s unveiling, more than a dozen states have considered—or are currently considering—bills based on this model legislation:

  • North Carolina passed legislation based on the model last August, with the North Carolina General Assembly approving the Restore Campus Free Speech Act by strong bipartisan margins. The University of North Carolina and the University of Wisconsin also adopted similar policies.

  • Legislation inspired by the model has already been introduced in legislatures in Michigan and Wisconsin, and these states will further consider these bills in the days ahead.

  • Additional related legislation is in the works in Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming.

“College campuses ought to be places where competing ideas can be heard and not silenced—even unpopular or controversial ones,” said Jonathan Butcher, senior fellow at the Goldwater Institute and a co-author of the model bill. “We hope that Nebraska follows in North Carolina’s footsteps to give students the ability to speak freely without being shouted down or threatened.”

On Wednesday, Nebraska State Senator Steve Halloran introduced the Higher Education Free Speech Accountability Act, which would require the University of Nebraska (NU) Board of Regents to adopt a policy protecting free expression on its campuses. Additionally, the Board of Regents would be charged with creating a committee to produce an annual report on “barriers to or incidents of disruption” to free speech on NU campuses. The University would have to publish these reports on each NU campus website so that students, faculty, and all campus community members could easily access them.

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