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A bill that would protect free speech on campus passed out of committee this week. SB156 has many Republican co-sponsors and incorporates similar legislation in SB118 filed by Sen. Kim Hammer (R – Benton). Sen. Bob Ballinger (R – Berryville)  presented the bill in committee and is the lead sponsor. It passed out on a voice vote with no audible no votes.

The law would prohibit public colleges and universities from having “free speech zones” on campus. These zones are defined and used by universities to limit a person’s free speech to a designated area. Ballinger stated that the entire campus should be a free speech zone.

No one from the public spoke for or against the legislation. Some line of questioning from Sen. Joyce Elliot (D – Little Rock) and Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D – Pine Bluff) showed some concern, but they ultimately did not vote against the bill.

Sen. Jim Hendren (R – Gravette) questioned how “hate speech” would be handled under the bill. Ballinger responded that if it rose to advocating violence or inciting violence then then the university could step in.

Ballinger explained the bill also addressed counter protesting. Under the bill, a person or group could engage in counter protesting, but not to the point to silence or shut down another person’s speech.

The bill requires colleges and universities to create and publish to the public a free speech policy. The policy can have reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions to prohibit interference with a lawful meeting or classes.

A person would have a cause of action to sue for injunctive relief to protect their free speech rights. The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote next week.

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