Legislation aimed at protecting free speech on Texas college campuses is one step away from the governor's desk, but still has to clear a final hurdle. Last week, the House passed Senate Bill 18 by a wide margin, several weeks after the Senate gave it unanimous approval. However, the House version included multiple amendments added by State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), so the bill has now been sent to a conference committee, where members of the House and Senate will try to hash out the differences in the two versions.
The original version of SB 18 that cleared the Senate faced criticism from free speech advocates that it did not go far enough in enforcing free speech rights on campus. Rep. Cain tells KTRH that his amendments are aimed at fixing that. "Sometimes we have legislation coming out of this body that is more of expressing a desire, but doesn't really do anything, doesn't have any teeth," he says. "We are ensuring that (the bill) is very strong, so that we tie the hands of these college administrators."
Specifically, one of Cain's amendments would prohibit universities from disinviting a campus speaker who was already invited by a campus group or individual and already approved by the university. Another amendment would create an outside state committee to oversee and ensure free speech activities on Texas college campuses, and report annually to the Legislature.
A third amendment would specially protect campus groups and organizations. "You may have heard where some colleges are forcing the Catholic club to have an atheist on their board, or things like that," says Cain. "So we want to ensure that the values and sincerely held religious beliefs of these organizations are also protected on the campus."
With the Legislature set to adjourn this Sunday, time is running out for the bill to get out of conference and to a final vote. But Cain is confident it will reach the governor's desk, noting that SB 18 was labeled a top priority this session by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. "We've got to draw the line in the sand and tell government you can only go so far, and ensure that people's free speech rights are protected," says Cain. "Because college campuses are not meant to be these intellectual safe spaces where nobody can be offended."