Texas Legislature Contemplates Citizens Participation Act Reforms

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The Texas Citizens Participation Act (CPA) is one of the most comprehensive legal protections in the country that shields citizens against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP), which can impede the First Amendment rights of free speech, assembly, press, association, and petition. However, a new bill currently pending in the Texas Legislature, Senate Bill (SB) 896 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and its companion House Bill (HB) 2781 by Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), may lead to significant unintended consequences to free speech and other First Amendment rights, warn several First Amendment organizations.

The CPA allows defendants to file a motion to dismiss lawsuits against them, preventing costly litigation from occurring until the motion is ruled upon, even at the appellate level. The new legislation aims to amend the CPA, alleging that the law is being abused in other court cases. However, opponents of the bill argue that it may severely damage the First Amendment protections that the CPA provides.

The proposed legislation would permit the trial court proceedings to continue even if the motion to dismiss the case is under appeal, provided that a judge determines that the motion to dismiss was not timely filed or was frivolous or that the case does not pertain to one of the protected activities.

First Amendment attorney Laura Prather stated that the bill could have four significant adverse consequences, including giving judges the power to discriminate or penalize voices they disagree with, leading to an increase in litigation costs, resulting in clogging the judicial system, and contravening the purpose of the CPA, which is to prevent costly litigation that stifles First Amendment rights. Other organizations, such as the Texas Press Association, the Texas Association of Broadcasters, and the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation, have also opposed the bill, citing concerns over its impact on free speech.

Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR) is one of the few groups that have supported the legislation, claiming that it balances competing constitutional rights. However, critics argue that it would unfairly interfere with the plaintiff’s right to a trial by jury and access to court, causing delays and disrupting the legal process.

SB 896 passed the Texas Senate with unanimous support in March and is set for a public hearing before the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee on Wednesday. However, neither Hughes nor Leach’s offices have responded to media requests for this story.

Source: The Texan

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