Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed an education bill on Sunday with a provision eliminating “free speech zones” and protecting students’ First Amendment rights.
Senate Bill 4, also known as the Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2018, expanded the state’s merit-and need-based financial aid funding for its students. Among other clauses, the bill includes one from the Campus Free Expression Act, sponsored by GOP state Sen. Dennis Baxley, that “codifies right to free speech activities,” according to a summary issued by Baxley’s office.
“The bill prohibits public institutions of higher education to designate [sic] any area of campus as a free speech zone, but authorizes them to create and enforce restrictions that are reasonable and content-neutral on time, place and manner of expression, and that are narrowly tailored to a significant institutional interest,” Baxley’s summary read.
The Campus Free Expression Act, which would have banned “free speech zones” across public campuses, failed to emerge from the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee. But the state’s Post-Secondary Education subcommittee voted to include portions of the bill in SB4, including ones banning “free speech zones” and allowing Floridians to sue public universities if their “expressive rights are violated.”
Florida Senate President Joe Negron (R) said in a statement that “protecting and defending the constitutional rights of Floridians is a top priority” of the Senate. Negron challenged Florida’s universities to continue achieving “national distinction” by training its students to “articulate and defend their ideas in an open, responsible way that prepares them for the real world.”
“This legislation ensures that our taxpayer-funded college and university campuses remain open for the free, safe, and respectful expression of differing points of view,” Negron said. “No one has a right to shut down speech simply because it makes someone feel uncomfortable.”
The advocacy organization Generation Opportunity-Florida (GO-FL) praised Scott in a statement Sunday for signing the bill into law.
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“Today is a huge victory for current and future college students across the Sunshine State who will no longer be discouraged from fully expressing their ideas and beliefs,” GO-FL Coalitions Director Demetrius Minor said in the statement.
“We thank Governor Scott, as well as Speaker Corcoran, Senate President Negron, Rep. Rommel, Sen. Baxley and others who fought hard to ensure that Orwellian ‘free speech zones’ are a thing of the past in Florida.”
(photo credit, homepage image: Free Speech Zone brevity encouraged, EFF office, San Francisco, California, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Cory Doctorow)