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ACLU Raises Concerns About Board of Regents Proposed “Public Comment” Rules

Posted: November 18, 2011|Category: Free Speech

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The Rhode Island ACLU submitted written testimony to the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education prior to a work session the Board held yesterday on proposed rules that would affect the public's opportunity to make comments at Board meetings.  At yesterday’s meeting, the Board of Regents specifically discussed aspects of the proposal that would give the chairperson greater discretion on deciding who could speak at the meetings.

The Board has proposed closing the opportunity for public comments on any item “where public comment has been received either at a public hearing, at a Regents meeting or both.”  Under this provision, someone could be barred from making a public comment simply because another speaker had addressed a topic at a previous meeting.  In its testimony, the ACLU asserted that “the fact that other people may have previously commented on an item should hardly serve as grounds for preventing another person from doing so,” especially considering that the Board of Regents already has provisions in place to limit repetitive, off-topic, or lengthy comments.

The ACLU also criticized as unconstitutional another broadly-worded provision barring speakers from “indulging in personal attacks.” The ACLU acknowledged that the Board "has the right to set reasonable restrictions on how the public comment period is conducted, and certainly can prohibit disruptive behavior," but that a ban on “personal attacks” was overly broad and vague and raised First Amendment concerns.

The ACLU will continue to monitor the Board of Regents’ decision-making on these matters.

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