Texas Senator Who's Experienced Some Press Criticism Introduces Bill To Gut State's Anti-SLAPP Law

Texas Senator Who's Experienced Some Press Criticism Introduces Bill To Gut State's Anti-SLAPP Law

Free Speech

from the fixer-here-with-the-fixes dept

Everything's bigger in Texas. Even the free speech protections. Texas has one of the strongest anti-SLAPP laws in the nation. These protections against bogus, speech-chilling lawsuits are so big they even covered a US President who complained libel laws in America were too restrictive, resulting in a swift dismissal of a defamation lawsuit brought against him over a fairly innocuous, if invective-loaded, tweet.

Some Texas legislators like the bigness of their home state, but not so much the anti-SLAPP law that deters bogus lawsuits filed to silence critics. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press brings news that a bill that would gut a substantial amount of Texas' anti-SLAPP protections has been introduced into the state Senate.

House Bill 2730 and SB 2162 would allow the entity accused of filing a meritless lawsuit to drop their case just days before a hearing. This effectively allows an entity to sue a media company for defamation, receive a hearing date, and then drop the lawsuit days before a hearing to avoid a bad ruling and the cost of the defendant’s legal fees.

The bills would also remove clearly articulated categories of protected speech relating to matters of public concern from the Texas anti-SLAPP law. The legislation drops the definitions of those categories of public speech and deletes anti-SLAPP protections for communications between parties on matters of public concern.

In addition, the bill would weaken protections for anonymous parties by exempting online commenters from the law's anti-SLAPP protections, and would give defendants only three days to file an anti-SLAPP motion when hit with a defamation lawsuit.

Why would legislation like this be needed? There's no good answer. And by that, I mean anyone agitating for an increase in baseless lawsuits is up to no good. I'm sure there's a certain number of people with power or connections to power who are irritated they simply can't threaten critics into silence with a strong anti-SLAPP law in place. Getting their bluff called by defendants now costs them money and that's an unacceptable outcome.

It could be Angela Paxton -- the senator who introduced the bill -- finds it too difficult to target her critics under the current law. The rookie legislator is also the wife of state Attorney General Ken Paxton. Angela Paxton has only been in office since January 8 of this year and she's already generated a ton of negative press, thanks to her initial legislative effort which seemed crafted specifically to ease her husband's legal woes.

In what state Sen. Angela Paxton describes as an effort to safely expand Texas’ burgeoning financial tech industry, the freshman Republican from McKinney has filed a bill that would empower the office of her husband, Attorney General Ken Paxton, to exempt entrepreneurs from certain state regulations so they can market “innovative financial products or services.”

One of those exemptions would be working as an “investment adviser” without registering with the state board. Currently, doing so is a felony in Texas — one for which Ken Paxton was issued a civil penalty in 2014 and criminally charged in 2015.

I'm not saying Paxton wants to start silencing her critics. But I'm not not saying that either. Her excuse for the husband-pardoning bill was that her constituents in the tech-heavy sector of Texas were looking for easing of restrictive regulations. So far, she hasn't made a similar statement about her constituents in Richardson suddenly developing concerns about Texas' anti-SLAPP restricting their restrictions of speech. All anyone can do it speculate about her motivations while being mesmerized by the new senator's blase approach to bad optics.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, angela paxton, anti-slapp, criticism, free speech, ken paxton, texas

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