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Anti-SLAPP bill aims to protect Idahoans from free speech-related lawsuits, state legislator says

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Anti-SLAPP bill aims to protect Idahoans from free speech-related lawsuits, state legislator says

Feb 26, 2024 | 7:58 pm ET
By Mia Maldonado
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Anti-SLAPP bill aims to protect Idahoans from free speech-related lawsuits, state legislator says
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Idaho state Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa, listens to proceedings at the State Capitol building in Boise on Jan. 8, 2024. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The Idaho Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee on Monday voted to move forward with Senate Bill 1325, a bill meant to protect individuals and organizations from being targeted by lawsuits meant to intimidate them from engaging in free speech and expression. 

Bill sponsor Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa, said this legislation would protect Idahoans from “frivolous” and expensive defamation, slander or public nuisance lawsuits that can take years to finalize in court.

The legislation is an iteration of similar legislation across the country. Legal advocates in favor of this kind of legislation have coined lawsuits meant to punish or silence people who speak unfavorably against them, as “SLAPP” lawsuits – or strategic lawsuits against public participation. 

“So imagine you’re being sued because someone doesn’t like something you said in a blog post,” Lenney said in committee. “Your lawyer, day one, can file an anti-SLAPP motion for expedited relief under this bill. The filing of that motion essentially freezes all proceedings between the (parties) until the court rules on the motion.”

The bill would allow for limited discovery between the parties, and the suing party can argue against the claim that it is a SLAPP lawsuit.

Idaho defendants of defamation and fraud lawsuits spoke in favor of the legislation at a public hearing Monday, testifying that the lawsuits against them cost them tens of thousands of dollars and significant personal stress. Legal advocates also spoke in favor of the bill, including Uniform Law Commission legislative counsel Kaitlin Wolff, and Ken McClure, the founder of the Idaho Liability Reform Coalition.

ACLU of Idaho legislative strategist Amy Dundon told the Idaho Capital Sun that while ACLU affiliates have historically supported anti-SLAPP legislation, the Idaho organization remains neutral on the bill until concerns about claims brought under federal law, labor regulations, recovery for bodily injury, fraud claims, and domestic relations claims are addressed. 

Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, said the bill is a “good start” to creating important discussions for anti-SLAPP lawsuits, but she did not vote in favor of the bill because she said the bill does not include a sufficient legal framework. 

Sen. Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, said he was struggling with the legality of the bill, and opposed the bill.

“This is one of those really tough ones where I agree 1,000% with what they’re trying to accomplish here. I don’t believe in frivolous lawsuits. I don’t believe in the incivility I see on social media … I think that what’s being proposed here is a good thing. I just want to make sure we do it right.”

The committee voted in favor of the legislation with a recommendation that it pass. The bill is now headed to the Senate floor for consideration.