Defamation law overhaul despised on the left and right dies in dwindling days of Session
defamation. Image via Pixabay

The anti-media bill had drawn criticism from pundits across the political spectrum.

Call it ‘the day the defamation bill died’: Lawmakers on both sides of the rotunda shelved a contentious overhaul of state defamation law Thursday, saying they were too far apart for compromise.

Sponsors in both the House and Senate confirm they have ceased negotiations on the measure. The legislation, which drew criticism from media voices across the political spectrum, would have lowered the threshold to sue media outlets and others.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jason Brodeur, a Lake Mary Republican, in the Senate (SB 1220) and Rep. Alex Andrade, a Pensacola Republican, in the House (HB 991).

The legislation advanced through the House Civil Justice Subcommittee but appeared stalled awaiting a House Judiciary Committee hearing. Sources earlier this week told Florida Politics the bill was “dead” in the House.

The Senate bill, after clearing a Senate Judiciary vote, was scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Rules Committee on three separate occasions, but was temporarily postponed each time. Senators did not take up the bill at a hearing on Wednesday.

Now, Senate sources say negotiations between the chambers have ceased.

Andrade acknowledged as much after news broke of the bill’s demise.

“While I’m sure journalists and media outlets cared a great deal about this policy, there were just too many more important issues than a niche issue in civil torts that we needed to commit our time and attention towards,” he said.

There were a “wide variety” of differences between the House and Senate, and the legislation is now being shelved for the duration of the Legislative Session.

Most notably, the legislation would have eliminated a requirement for providing “actual malice.” The House version would also have presumed information from anonymous sources to be false.

The Senate Rules Committee meeting came a day after radio host and former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel announced an effort to rally conservative media against the bill, fearing trial lawyers would go after those outlets before legal risks faced mainstream or liberal outlets.

“While I fought the Defamation Bill from the angle of warning Republicans about the dangers to conservative media, the death of this terrible legislation is a victory for every voice out there – conservative, liberal, and independent, from print to broadcast to digital,” he said.

“This bill was always a sword that would cut both ways. It’s incomprehensible to me that the very Republicans who enjoy the support and ability to broadcast on conservative platforms didn’t realize that. Furthermore, Republicans and Democrats should be celebrating the democratization of content creation and sharing, especially on digital platforms, instead of trying to stifle them.”

U.S. Rep. Cory Mills, a Winter Park Republican, had also come out against the bill.

“This bill is encouraging the state to violate its citizens’ fundamental rights as Americans and is not only unpatriotic, but it is not representative of the free state of Florida,” he wrote in a letter to Florida lawmakers.

Other conservative critics of the legislation included the influential Americans for Prosperity, which slammed the bill to The Intercept.

“One of the ways we do that is protect people from frivolous lawsuits targeting their speech by making it possible for judges to quickly review and dismiss bogus cases aimed at silencing opponents,” a spokesman told the outlet.

The loudest critics of the legislation were media advocates. The Florida Press Association lobbied against the bill. It listed a compromise of reporters’ privilege to protect sources as a chief concern, and said the bill would create a “false light” tort the U.S. Supreme Court has maintained for years was unconstitutional.

The organization was also concerned about the fact the bill only allowed plaintiffs to recover attorney fees, effectively incentivizing lawsuits. But the bill also opened up action against social media users. Some of those provisions were not included in the Senate bill, but the legislation still allowed plaintiffs to shop for venues more likely to sympathize with their own cases.

“The bills affect speakers from every point of view, not just the so-called ‘legacy media.’  Christian radio stations, commentators coming from the so-called “right,” politicians, individuals and businesses sued by former employees for defamation are equally at risk,” reads a Florida Press Association write-up on the legislation. “The bills will become a weapon for anyone who disagrees with the positions expressed by another person.  They impact speakers from all ideologies and all points on the political spectrum.”

The bill would have lowered the thresholds for suing journalists for defamation. Those standards have remained largely unchanged since the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan.

The legislation was a priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis, who earlier this year held a roundtable discussion with individuals holding grievances against the mainstream press, including former Covington High student Nicholas Sandmann; gun rights activist Dennis O’Connor; lawyers Vel Freedman and Libby Locke; Carson Holloway of the conservative Claremont Institute; and journalist Michael Moynihan.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


  • Pill Mill Bill McShill

    April 20, 2023 at 3:17 pm

    Trump himself with his big mouth might have caught a piece of some lawsuit had the bill passed. Anyway, DeSantis had sexual relations with a dead woman in Iraq!!!

  • David T. Hawkins

    April 20, 2023 at 3:27 pm

    Journalists need to be held to a very high standard to report the TRUTH but to many of them have lost their way when it comes to what TRUTH is.

    • Tom

      April 20, 2023 at 5:56 pm

      Likewise politicians but good luck with that.

    • Rob Desantos

      April 21, 2023 at 3:05 pm

      I suspect that anyone writing “truth” in ALL-CAPS has lost touch with what it actually is. Journalism is doing just fine as long as you realize cable-news pundits are not journalists.

  • PeterH

    April 20, 2023 at 6:24 pm

    If passed, this bill would be devastating to Republican leaning news outlets that have made a mockery of journalism.

    Donald Trump lead the “fake news” parade and his adoring wingnut media followed.

  • cassandra

    April 20, 2023 at 6:32 pm

    Fortunately, Trey Radel was able to force the legislature to end DeSantis’ attempted violation of Freedom of Speech and Press Rights. It is disturbing that DeSantis was planning to violate even conservative Republicans’ First Amendment Rights in order to keep hidden whatever it is that Trump and others have against DeSantis. Ron must not be allowed to silence dissent.

  • Dont Say FLA

    April 20, 2023 at 9:22 pm

    Will Rhonda’s Panties or Donald Javina Trump ever realize there’s a whole U.S. Constitution plus a bunch of other amendments including the 2nd plus a bunch of non-2nd amendments that comprise the Bill Of Rights? Do Rhonda and Javina think when people say Bill of Rights they mean Bill O’Reilly or what? These guys are too dumb for words.

  • David Pakman

    April 21, 2023 at 7:43 am

    Too bad. This would have been a good tool to use against all the fascism.

Comments are closed.


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