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Favorable Anti-SLAPP Law Rewrite Advances to Senate

- Free Speech Protections Sought by TAB Preserved

What started out as a perceived attempt to gut the state Anti-SLAPP law’s free speech protections for Texans speaking out on matters of public concern has turned into a stronger law for members of the public in general and for journalists and content providers in particular. The wholesale revamp of the law contained in HB 2730 cleared the Texas House this week and is advancing to the Senate for consideration.

Reps. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, and Joe Moody, D-El Paso, worked closely together with a broad range of Free Speech advocates, judges, trial lawyers, tort reform advocates and citizens groups to revamp the Texas Citizen Participation Act, as it’s officially called, to address a plethora of concerns. Chief among them was the fact that the law was being asserted in cases to which it was never intended to apply.

Leach’s original HB 2730 was joined by three other bills that took different approaches but still gutted the law. Moody filed a fifth bill that took a more surgical approach to the issue.

Leach, who chairs the committee of jurisdiction for the bill, convened a panel of stakeholders to work up an initial rewrite which was the subject of a marathon 5-hour committee hearing on April 1.  This version was unacceptable to TAB and other Free Speech advocates.  After considering testimony from dozens of witnesses Leach ultimately pulled down the proposed substitute bill and worked with stakeholders to address the key concerns he heard.

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

With all stakeholders agreeing earlier this week to forgo any attempts to make further changes during the legislative process, the Senate will soon take up the measure. If the agreement holds, the bill will advance unchanged to the Governor’s desk.

One of TAB’s attorneys, Laura Prather with Haynes and Boone, helped build and lead the Protect Free Speech Coalition to protect the integrity of the statute, educate dozens of key lawmakers and help craft the language that broadcasters, publishers and content providers needed.

TAB’s general counsel, Stacy Allen with Jackson Walker, presented key, detailed testimony in the hearing explaining ways to address the remaining First Amendment interests on which Leach based much of the ultimate solution to our concerns.

Several First Amendment attorneys who work closely with journalists and the Freedom of Information Foundation also offered strong testimony which, taken together, signaled to Leach that the initial revision needed more work.

TAB helped pass the original law in 2011 – which Prather had helped craft with Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi – and is the biggest 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.

Ultimately, considerable credit is due to Leach for his responsiveness to community concerns and willingness to acknowledge that his original bill fell short even of his own aspirations to advance Free Speech protections in Texas. Leach was intent on ensuring that Texas did not return to the days when wealthy individuals and corporations could sue critics into silence. While the process has yet to conclude, he has certainly fulfilled his promise on the House side of the deliberations.

Questions? Contact TAB’s Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944.

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