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Undermining Free Speech

Undermining Free Speech

Legislation aims to gut public protections

March 16th, 2019 by Gazette Staff in Opinion Editorial

Texas has been a leader in protecting its citizens from so-called SLAPP lawsuits—legal action designed to silence the public.

These lawsuits, often for defamation, are typically filed by business interests and aimed at ordinary citizens who protest or speak out against them or their products, projects and the like. The idea is to "money whip" those who speak up by keeping them in court as attorney fees mount.

In 2011 the Lone Star State passed the Citizens Participation Act, which allows citizens sued for exercising free speech to file a motion in court to force the plaintiff to show specific evidence of why the suit should not be dismissed. If they can't, the plaintiff might be on the hook for the defendant's legal fees.

It's a good law. It helps protect the public from these types of lawsuits and still allows companies that can prove their case to proceed in court.

Now comes House Bill 2730, a piece of legislation from state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano. The bill's provisions would essentially gut those citizen protections and make it easier for plaintiffs with big pockets to use the legal system to harass the media and outspoken residents.

This bill—along with its companion in the Senate, SB 2162—would have a chilling effect on free speech in Texas. As an example, it would be easier for companies to file lawsuits if a Facebook member posted a negative review of their product and service. Think about that the next time you log on.

These are the definition of bad bills, and we encourage the Legislature to bury them deep and forever.

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