Colorado legislators seek to outlaw campus 'free speech zones'

With unexpected bipartisan unanimity, a Colorado Senate committee advanced a bill last week that would lift free speech restrictions at Colorado’s public colleges and universities.

Senate Bill 62, sponsored by Senator Tim Neville and Representative Stephen Humphrey, seeks to guarantee free speech on college campuses by disallowing certain restrictions that schools have begun placing on expressive activities, particularly so-called “free speech zones” that limit public expression to designated areas of campus.

[RELATED: Clemson students rally against ‘free speech zones’]

The bill “prohibits public institutions of higher education from restricting a student's constitutional right to speak in any way in a public forum, including speaking verbally, holding a sign, or distributing flyers or materials.”

The bill also stipulates that “a public institution of higher education shall not impose unreasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of student speech that occurs in a public forum and is protected by the First Amendment,” adding that “court actions for violations of the provisions of the bill are allowed and include recovery of reasonable court costs and attorney fees.”

Notably, SB 62 also states explicitly that “public institutions of higher education are prohibited from designating any area on campus as a free speech zone.”

[RELATED: Arizona considering bill to ban ‘free speech zones’ on college campuses]

According to The Colorado Statesman, Neville devoted his closing remarks at Thursday’s Senate Education Committee hearing to outlining the case for vigilant protection of free speech, after which the Committee’s three Democrats joined its four Republicans to unanimously approve SB 62 and send it to the full Senate for consideration.

“Elected officials have a duty to citizens to ensure their liberties remain intact. On campuses around the nation, students are too often prevented from exercising their rights to free expression,” Neville told his colleagues. “A safe and constructive educational environment benefits everyone, but when a safe environment violates constitutional rights, it’s no longer safe.”

[RELATED:CUNY considers imposing free speech zones despite constitutional concerns]

“The First Amendment doesn’t protect against hurt feelings,” concurred Republican Sen. Kevin Priola.

Democrat Sen. Nancy Todd, conversely, expressed reservations about the bill, arguing that “we already have the protections of free speech, and I think free speech is prevailing on our campuses,” but ultimately voted in favor of advancing it out of Committee.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @ChrisNuelle