Anti-SLAPP Bill Receives Unanimous Vote in Senate Committee
Austin, TX (April 12, 2011) –The Citizen Participation Act made important progress in the Texas legislature today when the Senate Committee on State Affairs voted CSSB 1565 out of committee, with a unanimous vote of seven to zero, allowing the bill to move forward for consideration by the full Senate. Last week, several Texans testified in front of the committee on behalf of the bill. Among those who testified were Shane Fitzgerald, Editor of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and Janet Ahmad, the president of Home Owners for Better Building. Fitzgerald told the committee about the costs to the community when newspapers are forced to defend against frivolous suits on a regular basis. Time and financial resources are spent fighting these lawsuits instead of covering the community. Ahmad testified that she was sued for racketeering by KB Homes because she organized protests of the builder. Attorney Arif Panju, of the Institute for Public Justice, shared the story of author Carla Main, who wrote a book about eminent domain entitled “Bulldozed.” After the book was published, a developer written about in the book sued Main, her publisher, the person who wrote the promotion on the back of the book, a writer who wrote a book review on the book, and the newspaper who published the book review.
Last week the Texas House Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence approved companion bill CSHB 2973 with a unanimous vote of ten to zero, allowing that bill to progress to the full House.
The Citizen Participation Act, a bi-partisan effort, is law designed to protect Texans from frivolous lawsuits targeting First Amendment rights. The internet age has created a more permanent and searchable record of public participation as citizen participation in democracy grows through self-publishing, citizen journalism and other forms of speech. Unfortunately, abuses of the legal system, aimed at silencing these citizens, have also grown. These lawsuits are often referred to as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation or “SLAPP” suits. Twenty-eight U.S. jurisdictions have laws similar to the Texas Citizen Participation Act. Every Texan, from a rural housewife, to an Austin taxicab driver, to the Better Business Bureau, is a potential target of a SLAPP suit. The bill is comprised of HB 2973, sponsored by Chairman Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, and SB 1565, co-sponsored by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston and Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler.
The Citizen Participation Act “creates a mechanism to get rid of meritless lawsuits at the outset of the proceeding and it provides for a means to help alleviate some of the burden on our court system,” according to Laura Prather, a First Amendment attorney from Austin who testified last week.