Texas House committee advances tweak to First Amendment protection law

Friday, May 12, 2023
Texas House committee advances tweak to free speech protection law
The proposed state law makes it easier for people and the media to be sued and face lengthy, expensive court battles.

AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK) -- A proposed state law could make it a lot easier for someone to sue you for saying something they don't like.

Normally, Texas law makes it pretty tough for someone to sue you for protected speech, but this change could leave Texans responsible for lengthy court battles and legal fees -- even if what was said is covered by the First Amendment.

A Texas House committee has advanced changes to the state Anti-SLAPP law. Senate Bill 896 would revise the 2011 Texas Citizens Participation Act, which provides free speech protection.

ABC13 is opposed to this bill. ABC13 anchor Chauncy Glover pointed out that members of the media are saying, "Don't mess with free speech and our ability to do fair investigative journalism that holds leaders accountable, without fear or favor."

Essentially, Senate Bill 896 changes the way the state protects Texans from certain frivolous lawsuits. It's practically a rewrite of the 2011 Texas Citizens Participation Act, also known as the Anti-SLAPP Law, which protects people and companies from lawsuits that seem to intimidate or punish them for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Right now -- under the Anti-SLAPP Law -- Texans can say or post on social media pretty much whatever they want about politics or other topics without fear of costly lawsuits by wealthy and powerful individuals or corporations that don't want to be criticized or reported upon. SB896 makes it easier for people and the media to be sued and face lengthy court battles.

Supporters of the bill, like the Texans for Lawsuit Reform and The Texas Association of Business, feel the new bill fairly balances the right to free speech and the right to a trial by jury. But, opponents like Rep. Ron Reynolds say SB896 opens the doors for courts to discriminate and punish the voices, ideas or issues they disagree with.

"What you'll see is that there are many who are proponents of this on the right. They are doing this to put their thumb on the scales, to be able to utilize judges that are appointed by the governor that have more of a far-right, conservative-leaning, to be able to put their thumb on it. In other words, this is an attempt to circumvent the elected Democratic judges that are in large urban areas," Reynolds said.

The bill already passed out of a House Committee back on May 3. If it passes the House, where it must pass a second reading by May 23, it must then be approved by the Senate before it goes to the Governor's desk.

The current session ends on May 29.

An official date to vote has yet to be set, but Rep. Reynolds says it's looking slim, and he thinks the bill will pass before the session ends.

For news updates, follow Chauncy Glover on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.