Legislative Update (Week Four)
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 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, which is scheduled to meet Friday, March 31. The Senate bill was heard in the Judiciary Committee, which also passed it on a party line vote. The next stop is the Rules Committee.
FPA is weighing in on the bill via committee testimony, meetings with legislators and staff, working alliances with other affected parties including FAF and Florida broadcasters, and regular calls with a group of 40 defamation defense attorneys and stakeholders around the country coordinated by Thomas & LoCicero.
For talking points, analysis, and publicity regarding the bill, see the defamation bill tab on the FPA website member resources tab. Please use this info to weigh in on the bill by reaching out to your readers via editorials and news reports.
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, and the Senate bill has passed it first committee stop. We have provided a draft amendment to the Senate sponsor to keep newspaper notice as an option.
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.