State Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, talks before the vote on Senate Bill 375 in the State Capitol in Atlanta, Ga February 23, 2018. He is the lead sponsor of the campus speech legislation.  STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: Steve Schaefer
Photo: Steve Schaefer

Georgia Senate passes campus speech bill

The state Senate voted along party lines Monday afternoon in favor of legislation its lead sponsor hopes will discourage people from interrupting students and guests invited to speak on Georgia’s public college campuses.

Senate Bill 339 passed 33-19, with all Democrats voting against the measure. Democrats on the senate’s Higher Education committee had previously raised concerns about the bill, such as the state senate’s legislative counsel has advised them the Georgia Legislature doesn’t have the authority to compel colleges and universities to create such guidelines. Several public college presidents have testified against the measure, citing current policies to conclude the bill is unnecessary.

It is the last day for bills to move from one chamber to the other — that is, to cross over. (Erica A. Hernandez/AJC)

The bill’s lead sponsor, William Ligon, R-Brunswick, has continuously argued the bill is needed in light of situations across the nation on college campuses where speakers, primarily conservatives, have been shouted down by critics. He’s said current rules in place on Georgia’s campuses do not go far enough to prevent people from interrupting speakers.

“If you’re disrupting an invited speaker, there could be consequences,” Ligon said during Monday’s floor debate. “You can’t test an idea or debate it if it’s being shouted down and it can’t even be heard. … We need to encourage civil debate. And that’s what this bill does.”

Provisions that would impose fines and penalties as severe as expulsion for student protesters were removed from the bill. The legislation now goes to the state’s House of Representatives.

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The AJC's Eric Stirgus keeps you updated on the latest happenings in higher education affecting metro Atlanta and Georgia. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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