Uniform Public Expression Protection Act would restore critical free-speech protections
Today the Senate voted 46-0 to approve Sen. Mike Padden’s measure to help protect citizens, whistleblowers and members of the news media from frivolous lawsuits aimed at stifling freedom of speech and the discussion of legitimate public issues.
“The right to petition the court to address legitimate legal disputes is an important principle that should be protected, but our courts should never be used as a means to deny citizens their fundamental First Amendment free-speech rights or silence victims from exposing criminal activities,” explained Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “At a time when civil debate of public issues is more important than ever, we cannot allow people to use expensive lawsuits as a weapon to silence or bankrupt others.
“This measure has broad bipartisan support from citizen-activists on the left and the right, as well as members of the media. I am pleased to see it receive similarly bipartisan support in the Senate today.”
Substitute Senate Bill 5009 addresses an important free-speech concern created by the May 28, 2015, ruling in the case of Davis v Cox, in which members of the Olympia Food Co-op’s board of directors were sued by five co-op members over the board’s decision to boycott Israeli goods. The defendants argued that the action was an illegal Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) that should be dismissed as an attempt to chill the board’s public statements on an issue of public interest. The state Supreme Court had rejected this claim and found the anti-SLAPP statute to be unconstitutional.
SSB 5009 would reinstate the anti-SLAPP law, the Uniform Public Expression Protection Act, permitting a special motion in court for expedited relief against legal claims over public expression and allowing a court to award costs, litigation expenses, and reasonable attorneys’ fees for prevailing parties.
Padden explained his bill would apply to civil lawsuits for communications in a government proceeding or the exercise of First Amendment rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble or petition one’s government, or the right of association.
The proposal would make several changes to the act aimed at satisfying the concerns of the Supreme Court by adopting a “summary judgment” standard.
Several citizens and members of the press testified at the hearing for the bill that the anti-SLAPP law is a vital tool used to protect free speech. The bill was supported by the Uniform Law Commission.
The measure, which also received the support of the Basel Action Network, the Motion Picture Association, Inc., Women in Film, and the Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, now moves to the House of Representatives for its consideration.