May 19, 2017 01:27 PM

A bill that its author says is intended to ensure college students can hear all speech, especially speech considered unwelcome, did not reach the threshold of votes necessary to pass the House Thursday.

House Bill 269, authored by Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, would have required state institutions of higher learning to state their support for the First Amendment and create a system of disciplinary sanctions for students who interfere with invited speakers.

Harris
Photo by Sarah Gamard

Additionally, a special subcommittee of the Board of Regents would have been appointed to report annually on the status of speech freedoms on Louisiana campuses to the Legislature. The schools would have had to inform students of their policies during freshman orientation.

The measure received a 46-34 favorable vote, but it failed to meet the required threshold of affirmative votes from half the overall body, which would be 53 votes. Some 25 lawmakers were either absent or did not vote. Harris moved to reconsider his bill next week.

“Freedom of speech seems to be increasingly imperiled,” Harris argued before his colleagues.

Some legislators, including Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston, and Sam Jones, D-Franklin, expressed concern the legislation isn’t necessary.

“What’s wrong with the First Amendment?” Jones asked.

Shadoin made reference to an event at University of California-Berkeley, in which conservative commentator Ann Coulter canceled a speaking event due to threats of violence from students who didn’t like her. Shadoin said he’s unaware of similar events in Louisiana.

“Louisiana hasn’t had any problems with this, so if that’s the case, do we really need any enforcement that allows the universities to do what they’re already allowed to do?”

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