The Louisiana’s Democratic governor has vetoed a Republican bill that would have protected free speech on college campuses and punished disruptive students, claiming there’s no need for such legislation.
Gov. John Bell Edwards issued a veto letter on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press, effectively shutting down the free speech bill that passed the state’s House with a 94-1 vote earlier in the month.
The bill would have created sanctions for students who disrupt “the free expressions of others” and compelled colleges to sign a statement confirming their unconditional support for free speech on campus. It would have also required them not to shield students from “offensive” speech.
In addition to that, Louisiana’s Board of Regents would have been instructed to start a “committee on free expression” that reported annually on any free speech controversies on campus.
The Democratic governor wrote that the Republican initiative was “unnecessary and overly burdensome to our colleges and universities as the freedoms this bill attempts to protect are already well-established by the bedrock principles declared in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution” and the state’s constitution.
House Republican leader Lance Harris, who sponsored the bill, said his initiative was a response to an endemic lack of support for free speech by university administrations around the country which has led to shutting down speakers who face demonstrations and even the threat of violence.
As an example, the Republican lawmaker mentioned the decision by the University of California, Berkeley to cancel an appearance by conservative firebrand Ann Coulter. “Freedom of speech is under siege on college campuses around the country,” he added.
Disappointed with the veto of the bill, Harris slammed the governor saying he didn’t hear any objections from the Democrat’s office about the bill as it passed the House vote.
The original text of the bill has been debated as opponents of it raised questions over whether creating mandatory penalties and letting people sue campuses for shutting down free speech was a step too far.
Following the debate in the state’s Senate, some provisions were watered-down, letting colleges rather than the government decide the instances where free speech was inhibited.
Despite amending the original form of the law, Gov. Edwards said the law was “overly complicated and would only frustrate the goals it purports to achieve.
“The protection of speech has survived and flourished in the 226 years since the adoption of the First Amendment, and it will continue to do so without (Harris’ bill) becoming the law of Louisiana,” he wrote.
The House Republican leader, however, pledged to bring back the initiative in the next legislative sessions.
“I’m going to be looking at different versions. I hope I can visit with the governor and see what he didn’t like about this one,” he said. “I think it’s critically important that Louisiana be proactive on this issue.”