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Politics & Government

Utah Lawmakers Look To Limit When Colleges Can Punish Students For Harassing Speech

Photo of the Utah state capitol building at night
Brian Albers
/
KUER
Some Utah lawmakers are trying once again to restrict what type of speech can be punished on college campuses.

The Utah House passed a bill Monday that would restrict what type of speech can be punished on college campuses.

The legislation addresses situations where a student feels like something another student said was harassment. If it passes, universities would only be able to discipline students if their speech severely undermined another student’s access to their education. The speech would also have to be discriminating based on classifications protected by federal or state law, like sexuality, gender, religion or age.

“This would enable an environment where students would feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics without the fear that an overbroad harassment policy on campus would interfere with that type of speech,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan.

But Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, said he’s concerned that the bill allows the state’s attorney general to sue a university for violating the rule on a student’s behalf.

“It places our attorney general's office in a unique spot,” Stoddard said. “They're representing a student of one of these institutions who they don't have any ethical or legal duty to represent other than through this bill — and then going against an institution that they do have a legal duty to represent.”

The bill is now headed to the Senate. Similar bills have failed in the Senate the past two years.

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