TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Republicans advanced a bill Tuesday making it easier to sue the media for libel.
HB 991 “provides that journalist’s privilege does not apply to defamation claims when defendant is professional journalist or media entity.”
State Rep. Alex Andrade is sponsoring the legislation in the House and says his policy would lower the threshold to bring defamation cases and limit who is considered a public figure.
“The bill doesn’t change whether or not a public figure has to prove actual malice. It just provides certain specific examples where actual malice really should be presumed.” Andrade said. “Right now it’s the wild west of subjectiveness in defamation claims. This bill, all it does is provide clarity and tighten up situations that subjectiveness might occur.”
If passed, many expect a federal court fight that could go all the way to the nation’s highest court.
“This bill is going to be enacted. I think this bill is going to be litigated. Maybe this bill will be the occasion for NYT v. Sullivan to be revisited and possibly either overruled or narrowed.” State Rep. Mike Beltran said.
Some legal experts raised first amendment concerns and predict legal challenges that could potentially reach the Supreme Court if the bill is signed into law as is.
“I see very little chance of this legislation holding up in a threshold constitutional level in a trial court.” Defamation attorney Ken Turkel said. “It does not seem as if it was drafted to pass constitutional muster. What it looks like it was drafted for, was to create the opportunity to challenge these laws at the appellate level, eventually the supreme court level.”
The bill has one more committee stop before heading to the House floor.