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Government & Politics

MT Gov. Bullock Vetoes College Campus Free Speech Bill

The sun sets behind Montana State University's sculpture of Spirit, the school's mascot, April 2019.
Rachel Cramer
Yellowstone Public Radio
The sun sets behind Montana State University's sculpture of Spirit, the school's mascot, April 2019.

Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed a bill Wednesday intended to protect free and peaceful demonstrations in all public outdoor places on college campuses.

House Bill 735 would have ended free speech zones on campuses if free speech was restricted out of the designated areas. The bill acknowledged universities could implement certain limitations. For example, demonstrators would not be allowed to block fire exits.

Republican Representative Mike Hopkins from Missoula introduced the bill, which passed both the Montana House and Senate during this legislative session.

After vetoing the bill, Gov. Bullock released a letter stating, “I have conferred with university leaders in our state and have been assured that their policies are entirely consistent with — and, indeed, promote — our constitutional values of free speech and free assembly. Accordingly, I will not sign into law a mechanism that is weaker at protecting our constitutional freedoms than what current law already provides.” 

David Herbst is the state director for Americans For Prosperity — Montana, one of the advocacy groups that supported the bill. He says he was confused when he heard it was vetoed.

“Putting something into state law gives people who are suing another tool to use that can be much cheaper, especially for the courts, than going to, you know, filing suit under the Constitution," says Herbst. "It’s a long, drawn-out and expensive process. But filing under state code gives you those options for seeking remedy if you’re injured by a university policy.”

Herbst says there are opportunities to continue talking about this issue during the 2020 elections and the next legislative session.