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Nixon signs revised ‘Facebook law,’ MOSIRA

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Jay Nixon
Gov. Jay Nixon. Photo cur

JEFFERSION CITY • Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday signed the only two bills that successfully cleared the legislature during the nearly seven-week special session.

The first bill revised a law passed earlier this year restricting electronic communication between teachers and students. In signing the revisions, Nixon expressed frustration that the new law remains flawed.

The legislation directs school districts to develop a social media policy by March 1, 2012. Those policies must include "the use of electronic media and other mechanisms to prevent improper communications between staff members and students."

The original law - which was blocked from going into effect by a Cole County judge based on concerns that it infringed on free speech rights - contained provisions prohibiting teachers from having private online conversations with students.

Some critics believe the law effectively banned teachers from using social media sites such as Facebook because they allow private messages.

In calling the legislature back into special session, Nixon said lawmakers could only repeal the electronic communications provision, not revise it. The state constitution gives the governor the authority to determine which subjects lawmakers can consider during a special session.

Noting that lawmakers had gone further than he had directed, Nixon said the new legislation contains several provisions that he considers troubling. But he signed the bill because "to veto it would return us to a bill that would be far worse."

John Chasnoff, program director for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, said he is disappointed Nixon didn't veto the legislation. 

"We think the legislature kicked the can down the road on this issue and just passed the buck to the local school districts," he said. "It's been so difficult for the legislature to hammer out a bill that meets the needs and is constitutional. Imagine how difficult it will be for school boards."

Chasnoff said the fear is that local school boards will go too far in their own policies and won't strike a proper balance that affords sufficient protection to speech. That would open them up to costly litigation, he said. 

At best, Missouri will have a patchwork of policies that are inconsistent from district to district, he said. 

The Missouri State Teachers Association, which sued to block the original law and came out in support of the revision legislation, said in a statement Friday that it would "work with individual districts and teachers to make sure that all district policies continue to give teachers their first amendment rights, while at the same time allowing for proper use of technology."

The ACLU will reach out to the Missouri School Board Association, Chasnoff said, to offer assistance in crafting a model policy for school districts and will monitor what policies are put into effect around the state. 

Nixon also signed legislation creating the Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act, or MOSIRA.

The bill will shift state income taxes collected on new wages in science and high-tech industries into an investment fund that would be used to help those industries grow.

Nixon praised the bill as an important tool to create the jobs of the future in Missouri.

"The MOSIRA bill will be a valuable tool to encourage more start-up companies in science and technology to join what is an already growing area for the Show-Me State and our economy," he said. "Through MOSIRA, that continued growth will generate even more expansion in research and technology."

But the courts could ultimately determine whether or not MOSIRA can ever go into effect, Nixon said. That's because the legislation contains a clause that requires its effective date be contingent on the passage of the economic development bill that the House and Senate have been unable to come to terms on.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said Friday that the special session will end next week without passing the economic development measure. 

Courts have voided contingency clauses in the past, Nixon said, and in the meantime the state will initiate steps toward the implementation of MOSIRA.

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