Bill lowering defamation lawsuit standards advances in Senate

'This bill threatens the very core of our democracy.'

Legislation making it easier to sue journalists and news outlets for defamation passed through its first Senate panel, despite objections from groups spanning the ideological spectrum that it would put a “chilling effect” on free speech.

The bill (SB 1780), sponsored by Sen. Jason Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, was rewritten Monday to remove some of the harshest provisions derided by critics, including a piece that would have eroded protections in state laws for journalists against disclosing the identity of a source in a legal proceeding.

But opponents of the measure still contend it will undercut free speech protections. One of the main issues was a part of the bill that would create a presumption in law that if a news outlet published a false statement by an anonymous source, they were acting with “actual malice” — the standard in a defamation lawsuit.

“The overly broad and vague language of this bill does not limit the legislation simply to journalists and the media. private citizens who speak out on social media will be caught up in defamation lawsuits,” said Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel for the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“A free society is one where there is freedom of speech and of the press and this bill threatens the very core of our democracy.”

Brodeur defended his bill as an update of state laws as technology advances outpace old defamation laws written in the last century. Another part of the bill allows a public figure to sue if someone uses artificial intelligence to portray them in a “false light.”

“This bill works to modernize the way we address defamation cases concerning the growing technologies of artificial intelligence and deepfakes, helping resolve potential frivolous lawsuits and bringing accountability to those who knowingly publish false statements,” Brodeur said.

It’s not just left-leaning organizations, though, that oppose the bill. Americans for Prosperity spoke out against it Monday, arguing it would erode anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) that make it harder to bring frivolous suits designed to burden critics with legal costs.

“Just by reason of lowering that standard you are then raising the bar for people to have suits dismissed through the SLAPP proceedings which is going to have a significant chilling effect on speech in the state of Florida,” said Chris Stranburg, legislative affairs director for Americans for Prosperity-Florida.

The bill passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 7-2 vote along party lines, with Democratic Sens. Lauren Book of Plantation and Linda Stewart of Orlando voting against it.

Yet even some Republicans on the panel told Brodeur the bill needs more work to allay concerns it will chill free speech and freedom of the press.

“This is the first time I’ve heard a bill in many, many years where you have the ACLU and Americans for Prosperity jointly opposing a bill,” said Sen. Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican. “I will support this today with a promise there will be continued work on it.”

Gray Rohrer


  • Abram Nicholson

    February 5, 2024 at 6:15 pm

    Why don’t you lying skunks try stating facts instead of lies. Then, no problem. No need to abolish freedom of speech so you can bloviate away. Stop using trump and Fox News as your heros.

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    February 5, 2024 at 6:17 pm

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  • Michael K

    February 5, 2024 at 6:58 pm

    The Republican party is not content with merely destroying public education, now they are going after the free press. Putin couldn’t be more pleased.

  • tom palmer

    February 5, 2024 at 8:06 pm

    This bill invites a lot of frivolous lawsuits by whiny Republicans. Truth is an absolute defense in defamation suits, but the cost of defending yourself from nothing claims is a problem. I would suggest that if it can be shown that the suits were filed in bad faith, the loser has to pay the plaintiff’s costs.

Comments are closed.


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