Passage of bipartisan First Amendment legislation is huge victory for news media, all Pennsylvanians

On Wednesday, Gov. Josh Shapiro approved a landmark bill that protects public expression through anti-SLAPP reform. HB 1466 sponsored by Rep. Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie) won unanimous Senate approval after achieving full House support in October. The Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association has actively advocated for a comprehensive anti-SLAPP law for more than a decade.

SLAPPs ‒ strategic lawsuits against public participation ‒ are used to quiet journalists, organizations and citizens who speak out on issues of public interest or concern. Retaliatory SLAPP suits entangle people in expensive litigation to silence and intimidate them from exercising their rights to constitutionally protected activities.

Pennsylvania’s previous anti-SLAPP law applied only to individuals petitioning the government about environmental issues. The Institute for Free Speech gave the law a “D-” in its anti-SLAPP report card last year.

The new Pennsylvania law protects all forms of First Amendment expression while making it easier for people to defend against frivolous lawsuits.

The law creates a clear process for challenging a SLAPP suit and quickly dismissing baseless claims. Significant changes include:

  • Broad, expanded protection for all First Amendment expression, not just for those challenging environmental laws or regulations.
  • Mechanisms that ensure early and efficient resolution of SLAPPs to minimize litigation costs for targets of a SLAPP suit.
  • Mandatory awards for attorney fees, court costs, and expenses of litigation to anyone forced to defend against a meritless claim resulting from their exercise of protected expression. Mandatory awards will also help deter SLAPPs from being filed.

PNA, in a working partnership with Americans for Prosperity-Pennsylvania and ACLU of Pennsylvania, has championed anti-SLAPP reforms for more than a decade of legislative sessions. This coalition worked with First Amendment attorneys and lawmakers in both parties and chambers, through several bill iterations and language improvements, and with the support of a wide range of organizations. Those groups are listed on our coalition website, Speak Free PA. In addition to PNA, AFP and the ACLU, they are:

  • Electronic Frontier Foundation
  • FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression)
  • Institute for Free Speech
  • Institute for Justice
  • International Association of Better Business Bureaus & Better Business Bureaus of Pennsylvania
  • James Madison Center for Free Speech
  • Motion Picture Association
  • Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters
  • Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment
  • Radio Television Digital News Association
  • Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
  • Student Press Law Center

“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.”