Legislative Update (Middle of Week Six)
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 diluting the actual malice definition. 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. As of this date, it has not been scheduled for a hearing. The Senate bill was heard in the Judiciary Committee, which also passed it on a party line vote. The next stop is the Senate 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, andregular 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.
Supervisor of Election Notices. SB 7050 by Ethics and Election Committee
The Senate’s 98-page elections “reform” bill filed March 30 passed out of the Senate Ethics and Election Committee on April 4 on a party line vote and now goes to the Fiscal Policy Committee. The bill includes language that makes newspaper notice optional (they may also go on the Chapter 50-authorized county website or supervisor’s website, as deemed appropriate by supervisor) for the following notices:
- Notification in voter’s local newspaper of voter’s potential ineligibility to vote where the mailed notice is returned. Section 9.
- Annual notice of how a voter can update his or her signature that is on file and how a voter can obtain a voter registration application from a voter registration official. Section 10
- The 30-day prior notice of special elections or referendums. Section 16.
The Senate bill passed its first committee and has one more stop in Fiscal Policy Committee. There is no House companion bill.
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 its first committee stop. We have provided a draft amendment to the Senate sponsor to keep newspaper notice as an option.
Public Records/Transportation and Protective Services Exemption for Governor and Other Public Officials HB 1495 by Rep. Holcomb (R. Spring Hill) SB 1616 by Sen. Martin (R. Fort Myers)
These bills exempt records held by FDLE relating to certain security or transportation services, including travel records, provided to the Governor and other state officials. The bill is retroactive so that it exempts past records as well as those going forward. In conjunction with FAF, we have provided draft amendments to the House sponsor narrowing the exemption, but we have not heard whether he will sponsor them. The House and Senate bills have cleared their initial committees.
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.