Two Assembly bills would protect college journalists, prevent theft

Shayla Durrett

Two new bills would prohibit the theft of free newspapers and the censorship of student newspapers at California colleges, universities and community colleges.

The first bill, AB 2612, would make it illegal for a person to take more than five issues of a free newspaper if done with the intent to recycle for payment, sell other newspapers, deprive others of the ability to read the newspaper or harm a business competitor.

“Whether these newspapers are removed because someone disagrees with the ideas expressed in them or taken to recycling centers for cash, the effect is to deprive readers of a valuable source of information and ideas,” said the author of the bill, Assemblyman Member George Plescia (R-La Jolla) in a statement.

According to the assembly bill, the first violation would be an infraction and a second violation would be either an infraction or misdemeanor, which could result in up to 10 days in a county jail or a fine up to $500, or both. Community service may be issued instead of a fine or jail time in the amount of 20 hours for an infraction and 40 hours for a misdemeanor.

Currently police consider laws against theft inapplicable when it deals with free newspapers. The guidelines about what should be considered newspaper theft are not clear.

“While general laws against theft presumably apply when freely distributed newspapers are stolen, it is clear that the police view these laws as unenforceable when these types of newspapers are taken.

“Even when the identity of the thief is known, police have refused to make an arrest because officers have no clear guidelines about what constitutes newspaper theft,” Plescia said in a statement.

According to Mesa Press Faculty Adviser Janna Braun, the Mesa Press had an incident in Fall 2005 when numerous issues of the Mesa Press disappeared off the racks after a controversial article about a skateboarder being hit by a car. Braun said she didn’t know if it was a coincidence or if it was related.

On May 1, an Assembly Appropriations Committee passed the bill on an 18-0 vote. Next it will be heard on the Assembly floor.

The second bill, AB 2581, by Assemblyman Joe Nation (D-Marin), would prohibit the censorship of student newspapers at California colleges, universities and community colleges.

The bill would protect and uphold the First Amendment rights of college journalists.

“You want to provide students on newspaper staffs with a realistic journalism experience,” said Braun.

According to CAMPUS Magazine Online, this bill would add “and the student press” to a law that currently protects student speech on campus.

“I think it’s really going to help because students will have a chance to write what they really want to write about,” said Braun. “You can’t expect students to learn if they have to worry about administrators censoring their work.”

The need for this bill arose after a university newspaper in Illinois published articles that were critical of the school’s administration. The dean of student affairs at the university told the students that they had to start submitting their articles to the administration for approval before sending them to the printer. The students challenged the new policy on First Amendment grounds.

Newspaper advisers at California colleges and universities became alarmed when memos were sent to presidents at each CSU campus describing the case in Illinois.

According to Braun, there haven’t been any situations where the administration has tried censor articles.

“There was a situation where some members of the administration expressed problems with an advertisement we were running,” Braun said.

If the bills are passed college journalists will finally be receiving the respect and freedom that professional journalists receive.