New law would halt punitive lawsuits

By Kara Gale

A new law has been reintroduced to the Kansas legislature to combat harassing lawsuits.

It is called an anti-SLAPP law, with the SLAPP standing for “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.”

These are lawsuits that corporations file against people who are exercising their First Amendment rights to protest something.

Rep. Jan Long, R-Hutchinson, is supporting that proposed law.

According to the First Amendment Project, reasons for the lawsuits can range anywhere from writing a letter to the editor to speaking up and reporting unlawful activities or police misconduct.

They may also sue a blogger who is drawing attention to environmental problems having to do with big factories and waste issues.

Even people who have written reviews on sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor have been hit with SLAPPs.

Anyone who is drawing attention to a public issue — that people with power want to keep quiet— is a possible target, Long said.

The goal of these lawsuits is not to win, but rather, to cripple the activists with legal fees, add to their stress, and eat up their time, she said.

Court battles could take years, successfully burying a person in court costs that are hard to overcome.

Bringing someone to court punishes them enough to possibly make them rethink what they want to publish, despite it being within their First Amendment right to do so.

The proposed law would dismiss nuisance lawsuits in such matters and order the plaintiffs to pay the defendants’ legal expenses, Long said.

The Kansas Press Association is in support of this bill, as well.

“We strongly support this bill…because it protects the voices of those who wish to speak truth to power,” said Doug Anstaett, executive director of the KPA.

They want to help protect people speaking their mind.

Many states have already enacted this law.

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