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Legislative Battle to Protect Texans’ Free Speech Rights Intensifies

- Marathon Hearing Reveals Potential Path to Compromise

The Texas Legislature in 2011 unanimously passed the Texas Citizens Participation Act at TAB’s urging to stem the spread of “strategic lawsuits against public participation” by wealthy and powerful interests intended to silence everyday Texans and journalists for speaking out on public policy issues, consumer interests and other matters of public concern.

Legislation which in its original form would have gutted the Anti-SLAPP law’s protections has been improved after strong pushback from Texas broadcasters, newspaper publishers and others, but more changes are needed in order to retain the law’s core free speech protections.

HB 2730 by Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, is intended to narrow the law’s scope to ensure that it is not asserted in cases the Legislature never intended, a problem that TAB and other members of the Protect Free Speech Coalition acknowledge. Four other lawmakers also filed bills to address these concerns but, with one exception, their effect was to gut the protections provided by the law.

TAB and other coalition partners have advocated the more surgical approach that Speaker Pro Tem Joe Moody, D-El Paso, took in his HB 3547. Moody and Leach have been working together to arrive at a compromise approach.

TAB general counsel Stacy Allen with the Jackson Walker LLP law firm, testified on TAB’s behalf, commending the bill sponsor for the improvements made thus far in the bill and offering guidance and ways to address coalition members’ remaining concerns.

Brad Ramsey, President/General Manager of WFAA-TV Dallas-Fort Worth, and Bama Brown, a morning show host on KVET-FM Austin, were among other industry representatives testifying on the importance of retaining the protections provided in the current law.

In all, nearly 30 witnesses testified in support of the Protect Free Speech Coalition’s goals, with almost that many testifying to the need for a tightening of the law’s scope.

At the conclusion of the nearly five hours of testimony, Leach, who chairs the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee that was hearing the bill, withdrew the proposed committee substitute pending further negotiations by all parties to reach a compromise.

We anticipate that a new substitute will be advanced in the coming week and will alert all Texas broadcasters to the bill’s latest iteration and whether TAB can endorse it.

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

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