Florida’s House of Representatives passed a massive higher education bill which eliminates so-called “free speech zones,” pending Governor Rick Scott’s signature.
The bill, which effectively eliminates so-called “free speech zones” on public college and university campuses in the state, incorporates many elements of the “Campus Free Expression Act,” which was sponsored by Republican State Senator Dennis Baxley.
That bill was originally voted down by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but was then revived by the Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee, which voted to incorporate large portions of Baxley’s bill into Senate Bill 4, the “Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2018.”
In addition to eliminating free speech zones from Florida public institutions of higher education, the bill also creates a “Cause of Action,” which would allow people to sue an institution of higher education if they feel their “expressive rights are violated.”
However, the “Cause of Action” was somewhat controversial, as the Florida ACLU opposed the bill for that specific portion, though the organization did agree that free speech zones should be outlawed on college campuses.
“The ACLU of Florida absolutely supports eliminating free speech zones on campus, and we testified to that effect,” said ACLU Media Relations Coordinator Gaby Guadalupe.
Joe Cohn, legislative policy director for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) told Campus Reform that the elimination of free speech zones will benefit students.
“Students shouldn’t have their free speech rights quarantined into misleadingly labeled free speech zones and unfortunately public institutions in Florida are doing just that,” he said.
Burnett also observed that the “Cause of Action” would allow students to sue the public institution in a state court if their First Amendment rights are violated, noting that this would be cheaper to litigate as opposed to a federal court.
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