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Free Speech Advocates Mobilize to Protect Texas Anti-SLAPP Law

- Rich, Powerful Could Regain Ability to Sue Critics into Silence

The Anti-SLAPP law that TAB helped pass in 2011 is a pivotal free speech protection for Texans who want to participate in civic discourse on matters of public concern. Without the law, wealthy and powerful individuals or companies could file frivolous lawsuits against anyone who says something they don’t like and force them to withdraw their comments or stay quiet.  This protection could be wiped off the books if some state lawmakers have their way, endangering journalists, news operations and everyday Texans alike.

SLAPP: Acronym for “strategic lawsuits against public participation”

Officially called the Texas Citizen Participation Act, the law is in the crosshairs of two House committee chairs and two members of the Senate. They filed bills gutting the law after a Houston-based tort reform lobby group, which also is one of the most generous donors to some lawmakers, distributed materials throughout the Capitol inaccurately alleging the law is clogging court dockets, and noting that the law is being invoked in situations where it was never intended to apply.

While TAB and other advocates for preserving the law concede that some clarifications to the law are needed, HB 2730/SB 2162 advanced by Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, and Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, would eviscerate its protections. SB 1981 by Sen. Brian Hughes, R-Tyler, and HB 4575 by Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, are no better.

A more surgical approach that would make needed adjustments but protect the core of the statute is reflected in HB 3547 which was filed last week by Speaker Pro-Tem Joe Moody, D-El Paso.

TAB, several station groups, various newspaper publishers and a broad range of consumer advocacy organizations have mobilized as the Protect Free Speech Coalition to protect the law and support Moody’s effort.

Attorney Laura Prather with the Haynes & Boone law firm is advising the coalition and working with lawmakers to properly amend the statute while preserving the free speech protections it has provided to countless consumers, citizens, newsrooms and public interest groups throughout the state.

Stations that have invoked the law – or worked with sources that have done so – are encouraged to begin sharing their positive experiences with lawmakers, especially those on the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee or the Senate Committee on State Affairs.

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

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