OCVA's anti-SLAPP Initiative
May 18, 2001 alert
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Most of you probably will not be surprised as to the outcome of HB 2460 from the Senate Judiciary Committee. While the good news is that it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee (4 aye, 0 nay, 3 absent), the BAD news is that the House version (which passed 50-8) has been substantially amended. We are including a link to the Corvallis Gazette-Times article "Senate panel OKs anti-SLAPP bill", which touches on some of the provisions which have been removed from the House version.
In short, the preamble which acknowledges that SLAPP suits are a problem and how much damage they do to the public process has been removed. But Representatives Schrader and Shetterly both assure us that we can have this reinserted (in the House debate for the record) when it comes back to the House for a vote of concurrence.
Attorney's fees can still be awarded to the prevailing defendant if they are successful, but can also go to the plaintiff if the court decides that the special motion to strike is frivolous and that defamation did occur. The provision for awarding punitive damages to the defendant (if they prevail) has been removed. However, according to a conversation with Pring and Canan (professors and authors of "SLAPPs, Getting Sued For Speaking Out"), judges rarely award punitive damages in this type of case anyway, and other avenues are available under existing statutes (ORS) in extremely egregious cases which can be pursued for a punitive damages award.
"Special motion to strike" is now being referred to as just a procedural change under existing civil statutes (ORCP 21A), i.e., "a motion to dismiss". By dropping the preamble and adding this clause, our opponents are trying to avoid the acknowledgement that SLAPP suits shut down the debate on public policy issues and are a special class of lawsuit which calls for "special motion to strike". But if we can get the preamble back into the record during the vote in the House to concur (or not) at least there will be something in the record containing the intent and purpose of this legislation.
This bill should now go to the Senate floor for a vote but we don't know in how timely a manner this will occur (or if it will occur at all). Then it will have to go back to the House for a vote of concurrence. If the House votes to concur, it stays in its present form. If the House votes not to concur, the Senate president will likely appoint a conference committee to work out the chambers' differences. If that happens, we will have another chance to regain some of the original integrity of the bill. But for now, to keep the bill alive, we are urging organizations and groups NOT to withdraw their support of HB 2460--even though they may be justifiably disappointed in the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing which has taken place to weaken this most needed legislation.
The reality is this: numerous individuals and organizations have worked very hard for years to expose the real issue behind SLAPPs, which is to use lawsuits to prevent public policy issue debates from taking place. This legislation, unfortunately, is probably all that is politically attainable in this session.
We've been told to "take it or leave it", and many of our membership and board have said that OCVA's integrity, in supporting this amended bill, is at stake. However, it isn't OCVA's integrity that's at stake in this ugly process. It's the integrity of leadership in the legislature, which constantly caves in to lobbyists and special interests who don't give a damn about the greater public good, as well as the first amendment. Remember what they say: what goes around, comes around. November elections will come around again. Let's elect people who have some integrity.
We'll have to be tolerant and patient in waiting to see if the SLAPP bill makes it to the Governor's desk. We've been told he will sign it. If it makes it that far, it might not be the bill that we want and have worked for but (and more importantly) it will be over the objections of our opponents who have done all they can to deny that SLAPP suits exist and that they cause damage to the democratic process.
This legislation is a very public statement that SLAPPs cannot be tolerated and that they damage Goal #1, citizen involvement. We should all take this as a victory in and of itself and be proud that our work has presented the legislature with viable anti-SLAPP legislation--even if it has been watered down.
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Access a wealth of background information prepared by DLCD, including previous testimony and editorials:
This page last modified on 2005-09-19 08:39.