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Bill seeks to help block intimidation lawsuits

Main gallery of the Michigan House of Representatives
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

Democrats in the Michigan Legislature have sponsored a bill to help people fend off defamation lawsuits filed by businesses to intimidate and stifle criticism.

Representative Kara Hope (D-Holt) is the main bill sponsor. She told Michigan Public Radio the primary target of her bill is corporations that use the legal system to shut down criticism in public spaces including social media. She said Michigan is one of only 17 states that do not have a law like this on the books.

“As a defendant being sued by someone with a lot more money and a lot more resources, you can use this shortcut to save yourself some money and some grief,” she said. “They file these suits, corporations or whomever, and they know that whomever it is that they’re suing doesn’t have the resources that they have. They can really just crush dissent in doing that, and that’s not right.”

The legislation would allow the target of a lawsuit 60 days to ask a court to dismiss the case on the grounds it’s designed to silence or intimidate someone from speaking out.

Plaintiffs that can back up their claims would be allowed to move forward with their cases.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, one of the state’s largest business lobbying organizations, is keeping a close eye on the bill.

“There’s a fine line between an individual’s right to free speech and the right to defend yourself or your business from slander,” said Senior Vice President for Business Advocacy Wendy Block. “We hope that legislators are committed to finding a good balance.”

The bill has been assigned to the House Criminal Justice Committee, which is chaired by Hope. She said a first hearing on the bill could be held as soon as next week.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.