The measure, House Bill 31, goes into effect July 1. It prevents districts from entering into any agreement "that infringes or waives the rights or freedoms afforded to instructional personnel, school staff, or students by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution," unless those affected sign a waiver.
The Associated Press reported that the bill, which was "watered down" in its final form, was introduced by representatives Greg Evers, R-Baker, and Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna, in reaction to a lawsuit settlement between the American Civil Liberties Union and the Santa Rosa County School Board. As part of the settlement, the district agreed to stop public prayers at school-sponsored events.
"Our First Amendment rights, granted to us by the U.S. Constitution are absolute, and this law ensures that they remain that way," Evers told the Holmes County Times Advertiser.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said it is unclear if or how the new law would affect student journalists in Florida.
"There's at least an argument to be made that legislators don't pass laws to do nothing and that the intention here is to bring students' First Amendment rights more in line with the rights any other citizen would have," LoMonte said.
He said Florida courts would have to decide whether the law simply recognizes the student press rights that federal law already provides or if it confers the full benefit of the First Amendment to students.
Evers and Drakes did not return multiple phone calls by press time.
June 8, 2010
Student Press Law Center