COLUMBUS — Both the U.S. Constitution and the Ohio Constitution guarantee freedom of speech and expression. If an individual wants to speak out on an issue of public concern, they are free to do so, short of libel or slander.
For years, however, corporations and other entities with access to capital and expensive law firms had access to a loophole, using numerous discovery motions and other legal maneuvering to heap astronomical legal fees onto those speaking out, forcing them to either pay fees they cannot afford or shut their mouths.
Ohio Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, introduced the Ohio Citizen Participation Act in October to negate this practice, giving individuals a chance to still exercise freedom of speech without the threat of weaponized litigation tactics.
“This bill has been passed in 36 states in one form or another,” he said. “The bill doesn’t say this can’t be done or that you can’t sue someone for slander or libel. All it really says is that there is a special procedure under civil rules for a hearing to take place after a filing of a motion to strike. That hearing would take place within 90 days of when the motion to strike would take place.”
The hearing would help a judge determine if the motion would fit the parameters of the bill and whether or not there was any libel or slander involved.
Another aspect of this bill involves protecting anonymous speech in social media platforms, a provision Huffman believes is not included in similar laws in other states.
“There’s a long history of (anonymous speech) in the United States, going back to our founding fathers writing in pseudonyms, and it’s more relevant today because of social media,” he said. “What happens is that someone will sue and they’ll send out subpoenas to the internet company or whoever saying, ‘We want to know who sent this.’ (According to the bill, the person can be represented without revealing their identity, saying, ‘No, in this case, I’m allowed to say whatever I want, and you’re not allowed to know who I am,’ since the internet company could identify them. They could be represented anonymously in court.”
The bill is currently in the Ohio Senate Government Oversight Committee for review. Supporters of the bill include the Ohio News Media Association, the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, Common Cause Ohio, the Motion Picture Association of America and Yelp.
Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0390 or on Twitter @Lima_CKelly.