Governor Signs Bill To Ban ‘Free Speech Zones’ On Public College Campuses

<p>(Nathaniel Minor/CPR News)</p>
<p>Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner in the state Capitol on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016.</p>

Colorado's public colleges and universities may no longer restrict student demonstrations to specific areas on campus.

On Tuesday, Gov. Hickenlooper signed a bill to end these “free speech zones," and give students the right to sue if administrators restrict their right to free expression.

Administrators had used free speech zones as a way to control crowds on campus. But student activists said the practice stifled free speech by making it harder encounter opposing points of view.

“It’s absolutely phenomenal,” said CU-Boulder Sophomore Marcus Fontenos, who fought for the bill on behalf of his student government. “It shows that students can make an impact on the political process.”

Under the bill, students have a right to expression in public spaces on campus. Protected activities include protests, assemblies, political speech, petition drives, sign holding and the distribution of written materials.

Students can sue if universities stop any of those activities. Still, administrators can limit expression that disrupts classes or other planned activities.

The bill won unanimous passage in the House and Senate, thanks in part to a compromise between state Sen. Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat, and Sen. Tim Neville, a main Republican sponsor of the bill. They agreed to add voter registration drives as a form of protected expression on campus.

“I think over the next few years, you will see more active campuses because of this,” said Rep. Jeff Bridges, a Democrat from Greenwood Village who was a sponsor of the legislation.