Legislative Update (Week Two)
Defamation. HB 991 by Rep. Andrade (R. Pensacola); SB 1220 Sen. Brodeur (R. Lake Mary)
These bills change the defamation guardrails for lawsuits by public figures imposed by the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision in NYT v. Sullivan. That case established a high standard (actual malice) that public officials/figures must surmount in order to bring a successful libel lawsuit. This high standard prevents chilling of free speech by lawsuits from politicians and other powerful persons and entities intent on shutting down critical reporting.
The bills weaken the traditional standard by making it harder for plaintiffs to be deemed a public figure and changes the type of actions that are considered malicious. The House bill also ends the statutory reporter’s privilege in defamation cases; changes venue provisions; reinstates the false light tort; permits publication tort plaintiffs to recover attorney’s fees; and guts the anti-SLAPP act.
The House bill was heard March 14 before the Civil Justice Subcommittee. There was a fair amount of testimony, all in opposition. Representative Andrade defended his bill, but he was the only one speaking for it. While the subcommittee supported moving the bill forward, several members who voted yes also expressed that the bill needed work. The ultimate vote was 14-4 and it now goes to Judiciary. The Senate bill was referred to Judiciary and Rules Committees.
Self-Storage Units Notice of Sale. HB 995, by Rep. Waldron (D. Wellington); SB 790, Sen. Harrell (R. Stuart)
Under current law the notice of sale must be published once a week for 2 consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation. The bills would allow placement only once in a newspaper or “on a public website that customarily conducts or advertises personal property auctions.” Each bill has been referenced to 3 committees. The House bill was withdrawn. The Senate bill has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.
DOT Public Transport Yearly Notices. HB 1305 by Rep. Abbott (R. Marianna); SB 1250 by Sen. DiCeglie (R. St. Petersburg)
These yearly productivity measure reports from public transit providers are required to be published in the newspaper but this bill deletes that requirement. Each bill has been referenced to 3 committees, but no hearing has been scheduled.
Litter-Criminal Nuisance. HB 269 by Rep. Caruso (R. West Palm Beach); SB 994 by Senator Calatayud (R. Miami)
These bills originally stated: “a person who distributes pamphlets, flyers, or other materials whether for commercial or noncommercial purposes, in a public place, including outside a private residence, and such materials discarded by recipients, leads to littering, commits a misdemeanor.” This language was removed from the House bill at its first committee stop.