In Colorado, sponsors call the legislative proposal a “campus free speech bill.” Sponsors in Tennessee call their version the “Milo Bill,” after Milo Yiannopoulos, the right-wing provocateur and Breitbart News editor, whose deliberately offensive college speaking appearances have often generated protest and occasionally violence.
Colorado’s Senate Bill 62 is being sponsored by libertarian-conservative Tim Neville, a Littleton Republican. It has yet to attract a Democratic co-sponsor but, a little more than a week ago, it did win over the three Democrats who sit on the Senate education committee. It moved to the floor of the Senate on a unanimous vote.
Discussion in committee was all about encouraging unfettered expression and doing away with what can seem niggling and variable restrictions, such as fenced off “free speech zones” that move protesters far from the action or that preclude appearances of speakers representing certain causes or expressing certain view points.
But when it comes to speech that’s provocative, hurtful or wrong, “more speech is always the best revenge,” as Colorado ACLU lawyer Denise Maes put it when she was testifying in favor of the bill. It was sentiment that ruled the day.
That’s not likely how things will play out in Tennessee, judging by early news reports.
The Tennessee version of the bill is being sponsored by Rep. Martin Daniel and Sen. Joey Hensley, both Republicans. Hensley told The Tennessean that his bill was “specifically tailored to defend students with conservative views that he said had been silenced in the past.”
The paper reported that the two men “sponsored similar legislation last year which sought to make it easier for students to advocate for various causes on campus. [Hensley] notably said ISIS, the terrorist organization, should be allowed to recruit on college campuses in Tennessee.”
Indeed, according to the paper, the greatest potential obstacle to passing the bill in Tennessee lies on the right.
“To pass, the bill would likely need to win approval from lawmakers who regularly take issue with socially liberal speech on campus, from events during UT’s annual Sex Week to posts on the UT website about gender-neutral pronouns and holiday parties.”
In Colorado, opposition may build on the left. Neville at first declined to accept an amendment last week that would have added voter registration drives to the protected expression his bill enumerates. Democrats declined to support the bill. That was a Friday. On Monday, Neville accepted the amendment, and won over 32 of the 34 Senators voting that day.
The debate all seems very civilized and even substantive in Colorado, at least by comparison. Of course, it’s not over yet.
*Update/correction: The original version of this post left unreported the Monday vote in the Colorado state Senate on Neville’s campus free speech bill.