A new bill is making its way through the California state legislature, sparking heated debates and concerns over the state’s commitment to freedom of speech.
— Joel Pollak (@joelpollak) August 18, 2023
The legislation, Senate Bill 596, authored by State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-CA), seeks to broaden the scope of existing laws to encompass “substantial disorder” at school board meetings, leaving many questioning the motives behind this expansion.
The bill has already cleared the California State Senate with a vote of 30-8, reflecting the Democratic supermajority’s control in both houses and leaving limited room for Republicans to influence the legislation’s trajectory.
The bill’s intention is to address what supporters describe as disorderly conduct at meetings involving educational governing bodies. The current law, which targets disruptions in schools, would now extend its reach to include meetings of the governing boards of school districts, charter schools, county boards of education, and even the State Board of Education.
This measure, the bill argues, would provide a safer and more conducive environment for discussions.
However, critics are raising red flags, suggesting that this expansion could infringe upon the First Amendment rights of parents who often attend these meetings to voice their concerns over curriculum choices and educational policies.
Sarah Parshall Perry, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, pointed out the potential dangers of vague language in the bill. Perry emphasizes that terms like “substantial” and “disruption” lack clear definitions within the bill, potentially opening the door to constitutional challenges if the legislation is passed.
“It’s clear they’re trying to chill parents from speaking out,” she stated.
Under the bill, the definition of “school employee” also includes any employee of a school district, school, county or office, or state education board.
Perhaps the most contentious aspect of SB 596 is the uneven application of exemptions. The bill’s protections for school employees don’t extend to parents, a fact that’s fueling worries about the unequal treatment under the law.
While the bill attempts to carve out exceptions for certain actions, it appears to fall short in acknowledging parents’ rights to participate actively in their children’s education without fear of repercussions.