Free speech on public college campuses — including expressions that offend liberal students — would be protected under legislation that became law Monday without the governor’s signature.
House Bill 527 was promoted by Republicans in the General Assembly and by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest in response to a national trend restricting speech that some students find offensive. They say it will promote greater viewpoint diversity, but opponents disagree.
On Monday, a National Review columnist who supports a move toward nationwide campus free speech laws, praised the lieutenant governor: “Forest has established himself as a national leader on campus free speech.”
Both chambers of the legislature passed the bill with veto-proof majorities.
The new law:
▪ Requires the 17-member colleges and universities to be open to any speakers that students, student groups or members of the faculty invite to speak.
▪ Bans the practice of creating “free speech zones” on UNC-system campuses. First developed during the Vietnam War, free speech zones are specific areas of campus designated for protest, which have been criticized for limiting protester’s rights.
▪ Calls for the UNC-system Board of Governors to develop a policy preventing schools from “shield[ing] individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment, including, without limitation, ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.” The Board of Governors must develop a committee to guard free speech on college campuses.
▪ Calls for member schools to develop sanctions for anyone who disrupts or interferes with the free speech rights of others.
▪ Requires incoming first-year students to receive training on campus First Amendment policies during orientation.
Shrinking school districts
The governor also allowed to become law without his signature a bill requiring the study of breaking up large school districts in the state.
House Bill 704 forms a legislative study committee that would determine whether it’s feasible to allow previously merged school districts to be divided. It will also consider whether that could best be accomplished through a referendum by voters.
Most Republican legislators supported the bill and most Democratic lawmakers were opposed.
With those two bills and a pair of others — one dealing with coveted state government worker parking spaces, and the other technical corrections to the budget — Gov. Roy Cooper has cleared his desk of the past session’s bills.
Cooper signed 142 bills into law, vetoed nine, and allowed 49 to become law without his signature.
Staff writers Sam Killenberg and Keung Hui contributed.