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For a Voice In Annexations

Promoting and Protecting Citizen Involvement in Land Use Issues

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OCVA's anti-SLAPP Initiative


From the Corvallis Gazette Times

Kitzhaber signs anti-SLAPP measure
Gazette-Times reporter

SALEM -- Gov. John Kitzhaber signed into law Tuesday a bill allowing judges to quickly strike lawsuits aimed at silencing citizens from speaking out against chiefly land-use proposals.

"This is a long day in coming,'' Kitzhaber said during a brief bill-signing ceremony.

Supporters worked for two sessions to pass legislation to help protect citizens from so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs. They say developers and others use SLAPPs or the threat of them to intimidate people from speaking out against development and other land-use proposals.

Supporters say defendants in recent cases have spent thousands of dollars in legal costs before a judge dismisses such a case. Under House Bill 2460, a judge could grant a defendant's motion to strike before attorney's fees mount.

The idea of the bill is to deter SLAPPs from emerging in the first place, said Rep. Lane Shetterly, R-Dallas, a co-sponsor of the bill.

"My hope is this bill is never used,'' Shetterly said. "I think that would be the best testament to its effect.'' The chances of the bill becoming law looked slim two months ago when HB2460 stalled in the House and faced heavy resistance from developers in the Senate.

About the same time, news reports surfaced that local developer and Realtor Les Melvill threatened to sue a group of neighbors unless it retracted statements in a flyer opposing Melvill's annexation request. Corvallis voters rejected the proposal during the May election.

"His actions were very timely for the issue,'' said Jeff Lamb, chairman of Oregon Communities for a Voice in Annexations.

During the 1999 session, the House passed a bill that would give people civil immunity for statements they make in certain public hearings. It eventually died in the Senate.

Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, the other co-sponsor of HB2460, said this bill is superior because it covers statements in such things as letters to the editor and lawn signs, as well as spoken statements.

"This is about citizen participation,'' Schrader said.

Merilyn Reeves, president of Friends of Yamhill County, said her organization would strengthen the bill in coming legislative sessions if the need arises.

"We will be back in force to correct any problems that may be in this bill,'' she said.

Lamb said the bill is not as strong as he'd like but he still can support it.

He added he would like state law to give people total immunity to their statements -- whether they know what they're talking about or not -- as long as the testimony is germane to the issue.

That's currently a privilege lawmakers now enjoy, he said.

"Why have two classes of citizens?'' Lamb said.

Christian Hill is the government reporter for the Gazette-Times. He can be reached at 503-362-7377 or "chill AT proaxis.com".

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