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Abbott Signs Favorable Anti-SLAPP Law Rewrite

Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott has signed TAB’s biggest defensive win in the 86th Texas Legislature, a major rewrite of the Texas Citizen Participation Act, better known as the state’s anti-SLAPP litigation law.

Lawmakers unanimously passed the TCPA in 2011 at TAB’s urging to stem the spread of “strategic lawsuits against public participation.”  Such lawsuits were being increasingly used by wealthy and powerful interests to silence everyday Texans and journalists for speaking out on public policy issues, consumer interests and other matters of public concern.

Since the law’s passage, however, some court decisions have led to unintended consequences of the original law, leading to widespread concern in legal and judicial circles.

HB 2730 by Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, was one five anti-SLAPP related bills filed this session and was signed into law by Abbott on Sunday. It goes into effect on Sept. 1.

In its initial form, the bill and three others like it would have gutted the law. The fifth was the exception: HB 3547 by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, which was based on recommendations from one of TAB’s attorneys, Laura Prather with the Haynes and Boone law firm.

Leach, who chairs the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee which heard the bill, reached out to Moody and convened a panel of stakeholders to work up an initial committee substitute rewrite of HB 2730 after being roundly criticized for his approach. Prather was one of the few Free Speech advocates among the negotiators engaged in the deliberations.

The committee substitute bill was the subject of a marathon 5-hour House committee hearing on April 1 which featured testimony from nearly 30 witnesses including Brad Ramsey, Senior V.P., TEGNA, Dallas, and Bama Brown, a morning show host on KVET-FM Austin.

Both testified on the importance of retaining the protections provided in the current law.

In addition to Prather, several other First Amendment attorneys who work closely with TAB, the Texas Press Association and the Freedom of Information Foundation also offered strong testimony that signaled to Leach that the initial revision needed more work.

TAB’s general counsel, Stacy Allen with Jackson Walker, presented key, detailed testimony in the hearing explaining ways to address First Amendment interests in a manner which Leach ultimately used in the final version of the bill passed by the committee.

The result is a revamped law that includes a section devoted to media interests and which provides an absolute right to use the statute for journalists and content providers that isn’t tied to other legal constructs.

Much credit is due to Leach for strengthening the TCPA, addressing detractors’ concerns, and ensuring that Texas does not return to the days when wealthy individuals and corporations could sue critics into silence.

Moody, who also serves as the House’s Speaker Pro-Tem, also deserves praise for championing the cause of Free Speech in Texas, as do Prather and the Protect Free Speech Coalition.

TAB was the biggest financial contributor to the coalition’s legal fund which also secured significant support from Nexstar Broadcasting, Sinclair Broadcast Group and TEGNA.

Several other parties also provided financial support.

Questions?  Contact TAB's Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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