HARRISBURG – Today, the state Senate unanimously passed House Bill 1466, legislation to expand protection of the First Amendment rights of Pennsylvanians. The bill now heads to the state House for a concurrence vote. 

A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation—often referred to as a “SLAPP” suit—is a frivolous civil lawsuit intended to silence an organization or an individual who is speaking out on a matter of public interest or concern. The goal of a SLAPP lawsuit is to entangle the targeted organization or individual in costly litigation in the hopes that they will simply forfeit their right to publicly engage on a particular issue. As a result, SLAPP lawsuits create a deeply chilling effect on the free speech rights enshrined in the First Amendment. 

The ACLU of Pennsylvania has been advocating for greater statewide protections from SLAPP lawsuits since 2014.

“The First Amendment isn’t just about the ability to criticize government action,” said Mike Lee, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Freedom of speech is about the right to publicly call out deception, malfeasance, and corruption by any powerful actor. HB 1466 will go a long way in preventing powerful individuals and entities from weaponizing the courts against criticism that they don’t like. That’s a win for every Pennsylvanian.”

Pennsylvania’s existing anti-SLAPP law only offers protection against lawsuits that arise from criticism of environmental laws or regulations. HB 1466 will expand that protection to all First Amendment expression. It will create a mechanism for quick resolution of SLAPP lawsuits to minimize litigation costs. Finally, HB 1466 will mandate the award of attorney fees, court costs, and other fees associated with meritless litigation to the target of those lawsuits. 

“After more than a decade of advocacy on this issue, we celebrate this commonsense, bipartisan legislation that is almost across the finish line,” said Elizabeth Randol, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “HB 1466 will make Pennsylvania a leader in protecting the free speech of consumers, journalists, whistleblowers, and anyone else who speaks truth to power in the commonwealth.”

You can learn more about HB 1466 here.