Legislation intended to limit Texans’ free speech rights has almost certainly died after failing to receive a vote before end-of-session deadlines in both chambers of the state Legislature.
As Texas Scorecard previously reported, Senate Bill 896 by State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R–Mineola) would have changed key provisions of the state’s anti-SLAPP statute known as the Texas Citizens Participation Act, which was enacted to protect Texans’ right to express their opinions about public figures or matters of public concern.
SLAPP lawsuits—“strategic lawsuits against public participation”—are aimed at silencing individuals who speak out on controversial issues or people, typically by alleging they have engaged in defamation. The TCPA requires a judge to issue a stay of trial proceedings if the defendant requests the suit be dismissed, and the stay must remain in effect through any appeals of the motion to dismiss.
SB 896 would have changed the TCPA by setting a 60-day expiration date for a stay of trial proceedings if a defendant’s motion to dismiss was determined to be frivolous, late, or not applicable to the disputed matter.
The measure passed the Senate unanimously on March 21 and was approved by a House committee on May 3. However, it wasn’t scheduled for consideration by the full House until May 23, the last day for the House to consider Senate bills.
Because it was the second-to-last bill listed on the agenda for consideration, it didn’t come up for debate before midnight, ending its legislative prospects. More than 70 other bills died in this manner.
Hughes and his colleagues on the Senate Jurisprudence Committee had a backup plan, though.
On May 17, they added SB 896 to a House bill that simply corrected a numbering error in the same section of state law that contains the TCPA.
“It’s getting late, so we’re looking for vehicles” to pass SB 896, Hughes explained.
Central Texas attorney Tony McDonald, who testified against SB 896 in the House, described the move as “totally inappropriate and underhanded,” saying it likely violated the Texas Constitution, which limits bills to a single subject.
Although the revised measure—House Bill 3129 by State Rep. Bobby Guerra (D–Mission)—was designated as eligible for consideration by the full Senate on Monday, May 22, it was removed from that list the following day.
Wednesday, May 24, was the last day for the Senate to consider bills other than those they had already passed and simply contained changes made by the House, which means HB 3129 is dead.
Changes to the TCPA as proposed by SB 896 and the revised HB 3129 are supported by the Texas Association of Business and Texans for Lawsuit Reform, who apparently provided funding for a website promoting the measure. Both organizations testified in favor of the bill during a House committee hearing, along with a representative from global tax firm Ryan, LLC.