After momentum fizzled the first time around, state Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, re-introduced an Ohio bill meant to curtail frivolous lawsuits that target individuals for practicing protected speech.
Known as the Ohio Citizen Participation Act, the bill would create an expedited legal framework for courts to follow if a SLAPP, or strategic lawsuit against public participation, ends up in civil court.
Huffman, who re-introduced the bill during a Tuesday morning press conference, said the bill’s purpose is to encourage public discussion and discourage the use of lawsuits that effectively stymie conversation by saddling individuals with unfair court procedure. Similar bills have been adopted by 36 other states by both conservative and liberal legislatures.
PPP Policy Director Evan Mascagni was interviewed for a segment on SLAPPs for CBS This Morning.
"We're seeing a rise in individuals being sued for speaking out online," said Evan Mascagni, who works for the Public Participation Project. He says many lawsuits are designed simply to intimidate. They're called "SLAPP" lawsuits (for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation).
"A SLAPP filer doesn't go to court to seek justice; they are just trying to silence or harass or intimidate a critic of theirs," Mascagni said.
A developer sued a South Carolina town in 2016 over a zoning issue, and a few residents who had spoken critically about the development were subpoenaed for their comments on the matter. “The subpoenas demanded residents' communications, including Facebook and Twitter posts, to or from other residents of Simmons Pointe, the homeowners association, the town, elected officials, appointed members of the Board of Zoning Appeals and others.” Though the lawsuit settled, Mount Pleasant Town Council urged state lawmakers to pass the Citizens Participation in Government Act of 2018.
"President Donald Trump’s legal threats against the publisher and author of the most recent insider account of the White House may strike a nerve with journalists who are fearful of expensive legal defenses and chill valuable news reporting, but the threats could lose much of their power if states or Congress strengthened a tool that judges may use to dismiss meritless lawsuits involving speech protected under the First Amendment."