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Texas Lawmakers discuss bill on free speech 'SLAPP' lawsuits

Texas lawmakers held a committee hearing Monday on a bill aimed at narrowing the Texas Citizens Protection Act.

AUSTIN, Texas — Some Texas Lawmakers say a bill they passed eight years ago to strengthen the First Amendment Right to free speech is being used in all sorts of other cases and they want to fix it. 

Representative Jeff Leach (R-Plano) filed House Bill 2730 (HB2730) and the House Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence held a hearing on it Monday. 

Back in 2011, Texas lawmakers passed the TCPA, or the Texas Citizens Participation Act. The act was intended to protect first amendment rights, public participation and the media. It could be invoked to throw out lawsuits from companies or other powerful groups who were suing people just to keep them quiet. That type of lawsuit is called a SLAPP, so the TCPA became known as anti-SLAPP.

But Texas judges and lawmakers say portions of the act are so broad that attorneys are using it in all sorts cases, not just free speech lawsuits, to get the cases thrown out.

Rep. Leach says HB2730 better defines the TCPA to ensure it's only used for its true intent. 

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"The problem is the Legislature, when it passed this statute in 2011, included a lot of definitions about what free speech is, what the right of association is, what the right of petition is, and instead of using the constitutional definitions of those terms, they wrote their own definitions." explained former Judge on the Texas 3rd Court of Criminal Appeals, Justice Scott Field. "And those definitions are being used, such as this statute's now applying to employment disputes."

Lawmakers say companies and employees are also using the TCPA to get away with taking trade secrets to other businesses or to get out of non-compete agreements.

There were some concerns about the original bill that was filed. Critics said it wouldn't protect the public's right to free speech and could weaken protections for the media. But Representative Leach made some changes to the original bill, taking those things out and strengthening protections for the public and media. 

The bill is expected to be left pending in committee.

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