Free speech advocates oppose SB 896 in Texas House

SB 896 state capitol
SB 896 state capitol(kcbd)
Published: May. 12, 2023 at 11:16 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - The Texas House is going to consider a bill that could make it easier for someone to sue you over what you say or write.

Supporters believe it will combat frivolous lawsuits.

But some fear that it could pull businesses and families, into costly legal battles that could be used as a weapon to silence critical speech.

Oscar Rodriguez with the Texas Association of Broadcaster talked to us about how this could affect journalists and citizens.

“That is what I characterize as the most important free speech protection that Texans don’t realize they have and are about to lose,” Rodriguez said

If made law, the Texas Association of Broadcasters believes Senate Bill 896 would weaken free speech protections in our state.

The Texas Citizens Participation Act allows citizens to make accurate, truthful comments without the risk of being pulled into a lawsuit over things like business reviews or social media posts.

Laura Prather, a first amendment attorney, says most Texans could not afford the fight.

“The citizen that has spoken out, once they have to fight on two fronts, they’ll just stop talking,” Prather said. “Their voice will be chilled, the SLAPP and Anti-SLAPP will take effect. They will take down their post, they will apologize, they will do whatever they have to do to stop the bleeding, because they can’t afford to fight on two fronts.”

And it’s not just Texas families who could be affected by this law. It would have a damaging effect on journalists as well.

The new bill could put KCBD at risk of a lawsuit over reports on background checks, medical doctors awaiting review by the Texas Medical Board, arrests of child predators living near schools, or even questionable business practices.

“The list goes on and on and on,” Prather said.

Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), True Texas project and National Right to Life, are opposed to SB 896.

The Texas Association of Business and Texans for Lawsuit Reform support the bill.

They argue that it offers a fair balance between free speech and a right to trial by jury.

“Oftentimes trial courts get it wrong,” Prather said. “In fact, they get it wrong more than they get it right.”

Current Anti-SLAPP laws give a judge 60 days to throw out or approve cases considered under the law this bill would affect.

Senate Bill 896 could turn those 60 days into years and cost families hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, even if those cases are eventually thrown out.