by Dave Williams
Bureau Chief
Capitol Beat

The Georgia Senate gave final passage Monday to legislation aimed at eliminating “free speech zones” on the campuses of public colleges and universities by granting free-speech rights at all locations.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed House Bill 1 33-18 mostly along party lines. The House approved the bill, introduced on behalf of Gov. Brian Kemp, early last month.

The bill prohibits college officials from limiting what students may say as well as where they may say it, said Sen. Bruce Thompson, R-White, who carried the legislation in the Senate. He cited a series of lawsuits that have been brought against public universities in Georgia by student organizations whose events were relegated to out-of-the-way free-speech zones.

“Students continue to go to school under policies that are counter to the First Amendment,” he said. “What this seeks to do is give colleges the opportunity to make sure they’re not getting sued.”

But Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, said Georgia Republicans were sending a mixed message by backing a bill defending free-speech rights on college campuses while censoring honest discussions of racism in high school history classes. The General Assembly also is considering a bill prohibiting the teaching of certain “divisive concepts” in the schools.

“The majority party is eager to censor left-wing views or speech while trying to bolster right-wing speech,” Parent said.

Thompson denied that House Bill 1 has a political bias.

“It’s not for the right or the left,” he said. “It’s for all of our students.”

The bill now goes to Kemp’s desk for his signature.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Dave Williams

Dave Williams is Capitol Beat bureau chief.

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