Senate Bill 18 Seeks To Clarify Boundaries

Brianna Patt, Opinion Editor

A universities designated free speech zone|courtesy of American Civil Liberties Union

Passed on June 10, 2019, Senate Bill 18 is an expressive activity bill designed to ensure the guidelines of Free Speech on a college campus are followed.

“The legislature last session,” Governance Associate James Vanbebber said.” “Decided that we have a policy that explains and meets all the definitions of what expressive activity on a public university in the state of Texas can be.”

SB 18 specifies what students can and can’t do within confines of the university in terms of expressive speech. For instance, a section of the bill states that the university can’t go against a student organization due to them expressing their personal beliefs (political, religious philosophical, ideological, or academic, etc.). It also specifies what is considered public property and what isn’t, stating that the Sam Rayburn Student Center and Ferguson Auditorium are defined as “limited public forum.”  Vanbebber clarified that the intent is not to limit expressive activity on campus.

“We’ve always allowed and will continue to allow expressive activity to occur,” Vanbebber said. “That then let us set for like inside certain buildings and be what we call a limited forum, meaning the student center (you have to reserve it, your available to reserve it but there’s conditions on use).”

SB 18 also clarifies the conditions of how to file a complaint, stating that if students, employee’s, or student organizations that feel they are having their freedom of expression infringed upon they have the right to file a complaint.

Expressive activity is defined by the Senate Bill means “any speech or expressive conduct by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.” This includes protests, assemblies, speeches, handing out “written material,” signs, and petitions. According to Vanbebber, the bill has made its way past the University and the expectation is that it will get through by at least the end of the semester.

“I would expect probably by the end of March there is a Board of Regents meeting,” Vanbebber. “And they may go ahead and present them at the Board of Regents meeting, but I expect to see it before the end of the semester.”

In terms of what positives this bill could offer, Vanbebber believes that any information put out for students is beneficial.

“It lets them know ahead of time that they don’t need to ask permission,” Vanbebber said. “They can have their protest or have their march and have their freedom of expression.”