Legislative Update (Middle of Week Eight)
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 and passed 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, but it has not been scheduled for a hearing.
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 The House bill was withdrawn.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.
Elections Bill; Supervisor of Election Notices. SB 7050 by Ethics and Election Committee; HB 7067 by State Affairs 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 with language that made newspaper notice optional (they may also go on the Chapter 50-authorized county website or supervisor’s website, as deemed appropriate by supervisor) for three supervisor notices.
The Senate bill was amended last week (April 20) in the Fiscal Policy Committee expanding the list of optional supervisor newspaper notices to include: annual notices re: voter signature and registration information; Dept. of State notice stating offices and vacancies to be filled in the general election in each county; DOS notices to county supervisors of special elections to fill any vacancy; notice of special election or referendum; notice of time and place of testing of tabulating equipment; notice of movement of polling places; notice of rescheduled election due to emergency; and notice of canvassing board members, alternates, and place where county canvassing board shall meet.
The Senate bill, as revised, now goes to the floor. The House companion bill (HB 7067) filed April 19 also contains this bad language; it passed committee, and now goes to the floor.
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 passed committees and will be heard on the floor. A draft amendment we provided to the Senate sponsor to keep newspaper notice as an option has not been filed.
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. A proposed amendment to the Senate bill narrowing the exemption was rejected. The House and Senate bills have cleared their initial committees and the Senate bill is in messages to the House.
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.