The Texas Senate unanimously passed Wednesday the Citizen Participation Act, anti-SLAPP legislation aimed at curbing lawsuits intended to silence critics.
Because the Senate approved minor amendments to the bill, Texas H.B. 2973, it will head back to the House for concurrence before being sent to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk. The House unanimously passed the bill May 4.
The Legislature has made several previous attempts to pass an anti-SLAPP bill, including one that was vetoed by Perry in 2001 when Perry called the bill "a radical departure from traditional concepts of our adversarial justice system and the role of the courts."
That isn’t expected to be a problem this time, according to Laura Prather, an Austin, Texas, media lawyer and former president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, who was a driving force behind the drafting and passage of the legislation. She noted that the bill has broad support from a variety of stakeholders, including trial lawyers and supporters of tort reform, in addition to media groups and open government advocates.
SLAPPs, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, are lawsuits brought in retaliation for someone exercising his or her freedom of speech. The plaintiff’s goal is not necessarily to win the lawsuit, but to intimidate and silence critics.
The Texas bill protects speech on any matter of public concern in any setting and allows a defendant sued in retaliation for public speech to file an expedited motion to dismiss the cause of action, Prather said.
However, the bill is unlikely to be applied retroactively to any ongoing SLAPPs in Texas, Prather said, noting that, under the bill, anti-SLAPP motions must be filed within 60 days of the lawsuit's filing.
In 1989, Washington became the first state to adopt an anti-SLAPP law and last year updated it to provide additional protection for critics. If the bill is signed into law, Texas will become the 28th state with an anti-SLAPP law, along with the U.S. territory of Guam.
The bill will take effect immediately after being signed into law.