FRANKFORT, KY— The Kentucky House of Representatives approved a bipartisan measure to protect freedom of speech on Friday.
House Bill 222, or the Uniform Public Expression Protection Act, would offer those who speak out against a matter of public interest protection from strategic lawsuits against public participation or SLAPP.
The primary co-sponsors of HB 222 are Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, and Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville. Kulkarni has been working on the bill since 2019.
Kulkarni said HB 222 specifically “creates a procedure, a special motion to dismiss, by which a judge may dismiss certain civil lawsuits that are used to intimidate, censor or silence those who speak out on a matter of public interest or concern by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense against what is ultimately a meritless lawsuit.”
According to Kulkarni, the bill has received widespread support from numerous organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Prosperity, the Bluegrass Institute, the Kentucky Open Government Coalition, the Kentucky Press Association, the Pegasus Institute, the Public Participation Project, and the Uniform Law Commission.
Nemes said HB 222 will protect regular people from anyone in power, regardless of their political affiliation, who seeks to silence them.
“(Strategic lawsuits against public participation) are not in the best interest of our citizens, so we want to make sure you can’t abuse the process,” Nemes said.
The bill would not prevent a person or entity from filing a bona fide libel or slander lawsuit, and the standard to prove a lawsuit is a strategic lawsuit against public participation is high, Nemes added.
The House approved HB 222 by an 82-0 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.