Senator Ellis Press Release

For Immediate Release
April 12, 2011
Contact: Jeremy Warren, 512-463-0113

Senate State Affairs Committee Passes Texas Citizen Participation Act

SB 1565 protects Texans from lawsuits designed to stifle free speech

(Austin, Texas)—The Senate State Affairs Committee voted 7-0 today to approve SB 1565, the Texas Citizen Participation Act, legislation by Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) which protects Texans' right to petition the government or speak out about matters of public concern.

SB 1565 protects Texans' right to free speech and curtails frivolous abuse of our court system by reducing Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP). The legislation creates a way for people who have been subjected to SLAPP lawsuits to protect themselves from having to give in to a plaintiff who has greater resources or other power rather than spend thousands of dollars defending themselves.

"These SLAPP suits are the bully's weapon against democracy," said Ellis. "Across Texas and the nation, the powerful are using our courts -- and the threat of high legal costs and bankruptcy -- to silence critics and shield wrong-doers from scrutiny. SB 1565 evens the playing field and ensures the little guy won't be put in the poor house for standing up for what he believes in."

SLAPP are frivolous lawsuits used by moneyed interests to retaliate against and silence critics through costly litigation. With the rise of blogs, citizen journalism and increased public participation, more and more ordinary citizens are being targeted. SLAPP suits have been filed against citizens and organizations for simply circulating petitions, testifying at public hearings, attending rallies or demonstrations or even writing letters to the editor.

SB 1565 allow defendants in SLAPP suits to dismiss cases earlier than would otherwise be possible, thus limiting the cost and fees. Under the legislation, judges would have the power to dismiss these cases much earlier in the process and compel those behind such suits to pay legal fees and court costs.

Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have passed "Anti-SLAPP" laws.

Following are just a few Texas examples of SLAPP suits filed to intimidate citizen whistleblowers:

"The right to free speech is perhaps our most hallowed right," said Ellis. "Deep-pocketed bad actors and bullies should not be able to use the courts to silence citizens."