Veteran Lawmakers Join Haynes and Boone Partner to Hit Trifecta with Free Speech Bills During the 83rd Legislature


AUSTIN – During the recently completed 83rd Texas Legislature, veteran lawmakers, Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) and Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) obtained passage of three more groundbreaking First Amendment and Open Government bills with the assistance of Haynes and Boone, LLP Partner Laura Prather and former Sen. Don Adams.

This is the third session in a row that significant strides have been taken to protect Texas citizens’ First Amendment rights through legislation sponsored by Hunter and Ellis, assisted by Prather’s drafting and negotiating expertise and Adams’ legislative prowess. Gov. Perry signed into law all three measures promoted by Texas media and open government organizations allowing for greater free speech protections and greater access to the records and actions of public officials to Texas citizens.

The Hunter/Ellis and Prather/Adams team are known for their passion and dedication to First Amendment and open government causes. In addition to this sessions measures, Prather is known for her instrumentality in the passage of the reporter’s privilege (during the 81st Legislature) and anti-SLAPP statute (during the 82nd Legislature). She has now worked with the two veteran lawmakers to implement a retraction statute in the state of Texas – joining 31 other states which similar laws. This string of legislative initiatives brings Texas more in line with other states and warrants broader protection for free speech for its citizens.

“This is a great win not only for members of the media but also the people of Texas,” said Prather. “Each of these First Amendment initiatives gives citizens more latitude in what they say and, now, a greater ability to correct their mistakes.”

The retraction statute (HB 1759) protects the freedom of speech and encourages those who believe they were defamed in a publication or broadcast to come forward early to request a correction or clarification to decrease any perceived damage and limit the number of libel lawsuits.

In addition to HB 1759, two other open government and First Amendment bills advanced by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas (FOIFT), the Texas Association of Broadcasters (TAB), and the Texas Press Association (TPA) and championed by the Hunter, Ellis, Prather and Adams team were passed. One of them (SB 1368) updates the Texas Public Information Act to meet the advancements of electronic communications such as email and text messages. Another clarifies the existing appeals provision in the anti-SLAPP statute (HB 2935).

Prather and Adams, along with Freedom of Information advocates, TAB members and TPA publishers, substantially drafted, negotiated, and testified in favor of all three bills. Gov. Perry signed them all on June 14, and HB 1759 and HB 2935 became immediately effective. SB 1368 will become effective on Sept. 1.

Adams is a life-long supporter of the First Amendment and Open Government and passed the original Public Information Act. Prather is an authority in media law and serving an extensive array of content providers, including online and traditional newspapers, magazines, radio and broadcasters, cable television stations, production companies and music and sports entities. The two have teamed together for more than a decade to make strides in First Amendment and open government legislation in Texas.

At Haynes and Boone, Prather’s practice, not only includes government relations work for media and open government interests, but also includes media, intellectual property, open government and general commercial litigation as well as pre-publication review work.

Prather serves as an FOIFT board member and is co-chair of its legislative committee. She also serves as the General Counsel to TPA’s Legislative Advisory Committee.

Key First Amendment and Open Government Bills, 83rd Legislature 

  • SB 1368: Modernizes the Texas Public Information Act by specifying that electronic messages dealing with official business are public and providing that contracts between a state governmental entity and a vendor involving the exchange or creation of public information contain a provision that requires the vendor to make the information publicly available. (SB 1368 was authored by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and sponsored by Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. It was amended with the electronic communication language of SB 1563, authored by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and sponsored by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi.)
  • SB 1297: Allows members of a governmental body to communicate in writing about official business between meetings on a publicly accessible, real-time online message board. (Authored by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and sponsored by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.)
  • HB 1759: Provides a framework for someone who believes he or she has been defamed in a publication or broadcast to come forward in a timely fashion to request a retraction, correction or clarification or else seek only limited civil damages. (Authored by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, and sponsored by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.)
  • HB 2935: Clarifies the right to appeal protection for whistleblowers, journalists and bloggers in lawsuits filed with the intent of clamping down on free speech. (Authored by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, and sponsored by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.)

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