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Controversial house bill targets college educators, threatens press freedoms

By Loribeth Reynolds

Kansas educators — and press freedoms — have been targeted by a bill that has been introduced into the legislature.

If passed, House Bill 2234 would prohibit college educators from using their official titles when writing newspaper opinion pieces.

The bill disturbs Alan Montgomery, a journalism instructor at Hutchinson Community College.

“It’s troubling,” Montgomery said, “This bill stomps right in the middle of the First Amendment.”

That amendment protects religion, free speech, free press, the right to assemble and the right to petition the government.

“The founders of this country intended for the press to be the watchdogs of government,” Montgomery said. “They prohibited Congress from making any law that infringes on the press. This bill attempts to change content, to change the message, in what could be published.”

Janet Cook, an English and technical writing instructor at HCC, thinks the bill is a gigantic step backwards for Kansas.

“When I saw it, I thought, this is a throwback to the times when no one had free speech or expression,” Cook said.

State representative Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, introduced the bill. He has not said why.

Some say it has to do with “Insight Kansas,” a media service in which a group of Kansas college professors write columns about Kansas politics.

The writings appear in newspapers who subscribe to the service.

One professor’s column targeted Peck because of his comment about illegal immigrants during a Kansas House hearing in 2011.

Peck suggested hunting and killing them like wild pigs. It made national news. Peck apologized a day later, after a firestorm of criticism.

Cook was disheartened by Peck’s comment.

“How could he say that about people?” Cook said, “I can’t think of anything to say about him that is not off-color.”

No one knows what the future holds for HB 2234, but it is concerning for someone like Montgomery, who values the rights set into place by the First Amendment.

“I don’t know if it will pass. It’s sickening to think that it might. It would be a crack in the dam.”

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